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Levy, University Presidents Agree to Connect Higher Education and Business Communities

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy (top, left) was joined by a host of university presidents and business leaders including GSE Dynamics President Anne Shybunko-Moore (top, right) at a December 8 meeting where Levy’s plan to connect the higher education and business communities gained widespread support.

The Office of the county Executive issued this release today:

Prominent college and university presidents and business dignitaries have endorsed Suffolk Executive Steve Levy’s plan to develop cooperative educational opportunities as the critical pathway to employability by coupling classroom training with practical workforce opportunities and creating a skilled workforce to meet the demands of emerging businesses and industries.

Levy, along with top members of his economic development and labor teams and several area entrepreneurs, was joined at a landmark December 8 meeting by a contingent that included Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel Stanley; Dowling College Interim President Scott Rudolph; Suffolk County Community College President Dr. Shaun McKay, and Five Towns College President Dr. Stanley G. Cohen. Participants at the meeting also included executives from Farmingdale State College, Eastern and Western Suffolk BOCES, St. Joseph’s College, Long Island University and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Levy, university presidents and business leaders agreed to establish an internship program for students in Suffolk that will essentially guarantee students an opportunity for post-graduation employment at participating businesses. “Matching course offerings with high-demand skill needs of area businesses—and providing top college students with internships and future jobs at these companies—will help Suffolk retain top, young talent and further strengthen key companies,” Levy said.

The meeting was the latest step taken by Levy to unite the educational and business communities for their mutual benefit. Connecting area business with the universities’ training and re-training programs, he explained, could help satisfy both the current and future labor needs and further solidify an already strong economic base in Suffolk.

Levy said this approach would be in direct contrast to a trend that shows an estimated three million U.S. jobs unfilled today because of a lack of expertise in the workforce.

Participants at the meeting convened by Levy exchanged ideas about ways in which Suffolk colleges and universities can help build student skill sets that match the needs of local companies. Dr. Stanley said the timing of Levy’s initiative is “perfect” because “cooperative learning is the wave of the future.” Dr. Stanley was involved in the creation of a successful model in St. Louis and proposed that Levy’s meeting participants review best practices from there, as well as in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

GSE Dynamics President Anne Shybunko-Moore said her firm recently hosted a tour of 50 Ward Melville High School students who gained compelling insight about the types of jobs in which they can be successful. Providing on-site experiences to students, she said, can help “change the mindset” and create greater awareness that jobs in fields such as manufacturing provide for a rewarding and successful career path.

Shybunko-Moore also noted the shared advantages of mapping educational curricula with local businesses’ skill needs, suggesting to educational leaders, “You can educate these students so we can ‘buy’ them.”

Success stories were cited by a number of meeting participants including Dr. McKay, who noted that Suffolk County Community College has successfully established an industry-driven student certification and degree program for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) services. The program with enable students to install, build and repair high-volume heating and air conditioning units using state-of-the-art technology.

In addition, St. Joseph’s College Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Gigi Lamens said her college recently gained prestigious Cisco Certification that will help create a “linkage” between students and opportunities in the growing field of information management.

Participants in the meeting agreed that area business advocates have noted the need to update the Suffolk workforce skill set, which would enable businesses here to be even more competitive when competing on an international stage.

Levy said next steps will include sending letters to Suffolk businesses and high schools to spur greater interactivity, including additional on-site student tours. Also, large and small companies will be encouraged to offer a handful of internships, rather than relying on just a few, large organizations to provide dozens. “The goal is not to get 20 or more opportunities at any one company, but to provide one or two opportunities at hundreds of firms,” Levy said.

In addition, Suffolk County will work with LIFT and LISTnet to host a website that can serve as a clearinghouse of information to link businesses with education. The information on the needs of emerging industries for necessary workforce skills should be developed by the support organizations in those industries, while our academic partners must provide current and up-to-date courses and programs being offered at their institutions. The needs of industry can then be referred against the educational offerings offered by our academic partners.

The December 8 meeting was the latest in a series of steps taken by Levy and his Economic Development Consortium, created just over one year ago. Levy’s goal in creating the consortium was “to continue listening to the needs of the business community and to develop creative approaches that will sustain and grow Suffolk’s diverse economic base.”

Consortium committee chairs have worked with Levy, Chief Deputy County Executive Chris Kent and Suffolk Economic Development Commissioner Yves Michel to zero in on a number of short- and long-term initiatives. Goals include developing a new, online platform called the Suffolk Unified Permit Portal (SUPP) to interconnect and eventually streamline building permit application processes throughout the county and its 10 towns; connecting businesses that seek funding with venture capitalists who seek promising investment opportunities; conducting seminars to enlighten area businesses about prospective funding; rolling out a database to provide information to businesses about grants that are available; advertising success stories to highlight Suffolk County business retention and attraction efforts; developing a fact sheet for efficiently meeting Department of Health Services permit requirements; organizing targeted letter-writing campaigns to promote key programs and legislation; marketing all of Suffolk County’s programs and assets through an identifiable theme: “Suffolk County: Better for Business, Better for Life,” and creating a Small Business Advisory Council as a platform for a multitude of programs and services.

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