Issues and events that shape Long Island's economic and legislative landscape.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

LI population trend poses challenges- Published in Newsday on Nov. 11, 2013

The Half Hollow Hills school board's decision to close two elementary schools due to declining enrollment could be a disturbing harbinger if we don't start growing again.

You can't blame the parents of the students for being upset with the potential impact. And you can't blame the school district for trying to live within the property tax cap. Since Long Islanders always look to blame someone or something, they should look no further than our changing demographics.

Long Island's population is stagnant. We are also getting older. The median age in Suffolk has risen from 30 in 1980 to nearly 40 in 2012. Those aged 65 and older were 9 percent of Suffolk's population in 1980 and 13.5 percent today, according to the U.S. Census. In addition, we continue to experience a brain drain as our younger adults ages 25-34 (our future baby makers) move to cooler areas like Brooklyn.

Also, the number of newborns to 4-year-olds in Nassau and Suffolk dropped from 186,932 in 2000 to 158,008 in 2011 -- a 15 percent decline. The so-called birth dearth has been going on for 30 years. People are marrying later and having fewer children. It is no wonder 70 percent of districts have shown declines in elementary school enrollment in the past six years.

Long Island has far fewer rental properties than our bordering regions. Municipalities frequently oppose building multifamily homes and seem only to approve residential developments for those 55 and older. We are basically telling our young adults we don't want them here.

If these troubling trends continue, they will have an impact on our businesses and our future workforce as the talent pool of young educated workers is reduced; they will affect our residential and commercial real estate markets because there will be fewer people to buy homes and fill office space; and they will continue to harm our schools as well as our colleges and their academic programs.

While we must always protect our environment, we need to start growing again. We need to invest in sewage infrastructure that will permit the construction of more multi-family homes. We need to revitalize our downtowns. There has been progress in downtown Patchogue, Wyandanch, Farmingdale and Hempstead, but more needs to be done, especially in those communities with railroad stations nearby to provide our young employees a place to live and work on Long Island.

Growth should come from stemming the domestic migration losses, increasing international migration and making our region more attractive to the next generation of baby producers. Communities should not rail against a new business seeking to locate or expand here or against the construction of rental homes and mixed-use projects. Both are critical to our future economy.

Nassau and Suffolk can start growing again. We are next door to the capital of the world and are surrounded by beautiful beaches, parks and golf courses. We also have the best educated and trained workforce and renowned research institutions -- assets we need to capitalize on to create an innovation economy and high-tech jobs.

However, the land-use models that guided development on Long Island in the past will not allow us to thrive in the future. So let us embrace smart, sustainable growth and diversify our housing supply, help our businesses expand and get our region growing again. Without both jobs and more rental homes, these population trends will continue, and the closure of more elementary schools will be the least of our problems.