Newsday Media Coverage

Copyright 1999 Newsday, Inc.  

Newsday (New York)

April 18, 1999, Sunday, ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 2640 words


BYLINE: By Elizabeth Sanger. STAFF WRITER 

EVERY DAY some 278,000 people trudge from their homes on Long Island to New York City to pamper clients, devise strategies, trade stocks, file papers, design dresses, edit books or do what else is required during their 9-to-5 workday.

Over the past several years, a growing number of employees have shortened the commute, discovering the benefits of toiling closer to home on Long Island. Today, thanks to a booming economy, tight labor market, higher salaries and new businesses moving in, it's easier to find a rewarding job with a healthy paycheck east of the city's lines.

"There are more opportunities out here for more kinds of people in different kinds of fields than ever before," said Irwin Kellner, a Hofstra economics professor who also works as chief economist for CBSMarketWatch, an interactive financial news Web site.

Kellner, 60, is exhibit A in the trend of workers migrating from New York to greener pastures. Two years ago he quit as the Chase Manhattan Bank's head economist, a position that usually took him into Manhattan from his Port Washington home. Sick of a 25-year commute, he opened a home office to launch a consulting business. "It's a better lifestyle," Kellner says. "Anytime anybody can live close to their job - if you don't have to spend an hour or more commuting by rail or road - you're better off."

In fact, most people who work on Long Island, live on Long Island. About 20 percent of Long Islanders who work do so in the city, primarily in Manhattan, a number that has remained fairly constant for the last two decades, said Pearl M. Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association.

Some seek out jobs in Nassau and Suffolk Counties because they can't stand sitting in traffic for another minute. Others want more time with their families or to pursue outside endeavors. Some yearn to escape the noise and hubbub for a more relaxing pace.

Consider Diane Nicholson. After her second child was born, the 36-year-old Port Washington resident realized she didn't have the time or stamina to continue the 2 1/2-hour, to-and-fro, five-day-a week commute to her job overseeing a division of Liz Claiborne. She turned to the help-wanted ads and within months ended up at The NPD Group - practically in her back yard. Even though she hadn't heard of the market research company in her earlier career, she's so happy she's never looked back.

"The first six months I remember how surprised I was with the talent and professionalism of the people who work here," she said.

At last count there were more than 1.4 million jobs on Long Island; 28,000 of them were created last year. That increase was the best showing of the decade and catapulted the region to a level not seen since before the 1989-92 recession, Kamer said.

Although a big jump in new positions is welcome news, the labor force hasn't been able to keep pace. And if companies can't find enough people to fill openings, they could consider expanding or moving elsewhere. Last year, 13,200 people joined the labor force - less than half the number of new jobs - leaving companies scrambling to find qualified workers.

It's a buyers job market on Long Island. "A lot of jobs are going begging across the spectrum at all wage levels," Kamer said.

For skilled workers seeking high-paying positions, labor shortages are most acute in computer technology and bioscience companies, and engineers of all sorts are in high demand, many in small, entrepreneurial firms that didn't exist five years ago. Yet the market for low-paying, unskilled workers is also strong. Fast-food restaurants and retailers can't find enough people to flip burgers or fold trousers.

Historically, Long Islanders travelled to the city following the scent of big salaries; low-paying jobs didn't warrant a commute. That's no longer so necessary. Long Island wages are catching up with those in Manhattan as companies hard pressed to fill jobs dangle fatter paychecks and better benefits. Moreover, Island wages are "superior to salaries available in Queens and Brooklyn," said Long Island Association president Matthew Crosson. It's a case of supply and demand.

The average 1998 Long Island salary, covering all industries, was $ 36,000 - $ 3,000 higher than the year before, Kamer said. That number, however, is about $ 15,000 less than the average wage in New York City.

Even if the take-home pay on the Island isn't quite on par with what city workers have been used to, many are willing to give up part of a paycheck - even a possible financial bonanza - for other kinds of compensation, like an improved quality of life.

Imran Anwar traded stock options from his former employer that potentially could have been worth a bundle, for a job with Computer Associates International that lets him spend starry evenings cruising on his 23-foot boat.

Computer Associates ran ads at Long Island train stations, urging riders to spend time on their career, not their commute. The campaign generated hundreds of resumes, said Deborah Coughlin, the company's senior vice president of human resources. For those who do a reverse commute and want to remain in the boroughs, CA offers a subsidized shuttle bus that takes workers from Queens to Islandia and back. Up to 100 of its staffers use the service monthly, she said.

More are trying the Long Island corporate life. Here are the stories of five who recently made the switch. Ellen Kroner / Cablevision Systems Corp. AFTER LIVING in Los Angeles for the last 10 years, most recently working in public relations at the talent agency ICM, Ellen Kroner decided last year to head back East. She weighed two job offers: one from a small film company in Manhattan, another from Cablevision Systems Corp., both offering roughly the same pay.

Even though she grew up in Manhattan, Kroner thought Long Island would be an easier transition. She was used to a suburban lifestyle, hopping into her Lexus to do errands at lunch. Moreover, she believed the slower pace would be less stressful than the city's constant hubbub and she wasn't willing to squeeze into the typical 700-square-foot, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, having lived in a 2,300-square-foot condo.

But the decision involved more than opting for greenery over concrete. Kroner, who is single and 40-something, signed on with Cablevision as vice president of public relations for its American Movie Classics channel because the company and position seemed more desirable.

"The job was more appealing to me because Cablevision was bigger and more secure than the small film company," Kroner said. "It had a reputation for treating its senior executives well."

"I feel I've sacrificed nothing," said Kroner, who has been with Bethpage-based Cablevision 10 months and has been so busy she has barely decorated her corner office. Despite the hectic schedule, which takes her into the city for meetings once or twice a week, she's glad to have left the cutthroat environment of her last employer. When she met her prospective bosses, she felt Cablevision's culture would be more supportive and nurturing than ICM had been and would give her more creative freedom.

Kroner heads a department and oversees seven staffers. Her income is comparable to what she brought home on the West Coast, but taking the job meant stepping down a rung in title. Her old business card read senior vice president, now she's simply a v.p. But there are no regrets.

"I didn't have to trade down to work here," she says. Imran Anwar / Computer Associates FOUR YEARS AGO, Imran Anwar, then a consultant, reluctantly moved from a beautiful Manhattan high-rise to a three-bedroom house in East Patchogue on the water with a private beach and boat slip. He didn't do it to smell the fresh air; he did it for his checkbook. The monthly payment on the new digs was only slightly more than rent on the Upper East Side one-bedroom with sweeping views of the city.

He adjusted to the suburban lifestyle and all was well until he took a job back in Manhattan working as project director for Silicon Valley Internet Partners, now known as Viant. Suddenly his life took a sharp turn for the worse. "The commute was killing me," he said, often requiring five hours a day behind the steering wheel of his Mercedes-Benz, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. "Thank God it's a comfortable car. I spent more time there than in my living room."

Six months later, when he was recommended to an executive at Computer Associates and an opportunity came along, it took him 3 1/2 minutes to think it through and accept.

"I loved the company," he says of the Internet firm. "It was a wonderful place. But sometimes love just ain't enough. The commute didn't make it worth it anymore." Anwar, who is 36 and calls himself "happily single," joined CA in June, 1997, and is a product marketing manager, his second position there.

He got a significant jump in pay with CA, but that won't equal what could have been a major financial gain. When he made a hasty exit from the Manhattan technology company, he had to leave his stock options behind. If the company goes public, as most Internet start-ups do, he will have missed a potentially huge windfall.

The way he sees it, he traded stock options for his sanity. A fast driver, his commute takes him 18 minutes. He spends many more hours on his Searay Sundancer, which he pilots on the Great South Bay. If he leaves work at 6 p.m., he's aboard by 6:30 p.m., watches the sun set, and "depending on how beautiful the stars are" sometimes sleeps on the boat with the waves lapping around him. Diane Nicholson / NPD's Showbiz WHEN Diane Nicholson was on maternity leave about to give birth to her second child, her priorities changed. No longer did she want to slip out of the house at 7 a.m. before her daughter was awake and return 13 hours later with little time for dinner with her husband. She didn't want to stop working, but she wanted to be closer to home "for all the reasons working moms want to be closer to home."

She read newspaper ads and widened her search beyond her experience in retail and sales. An ad for NPD - in her hometown of Port Washington of all places - caught her eye.

"I said, 'Oh my God, I need to meet these people, " she recalls.

She was hired in October, 1997, to launch and manage NPD's Showbiz footwear service, which tracks retail sales of footwear in department stores. With her background, the job fit like a Ferragamo shoe. She oversees the operations, recruits clients and spends 25 percent of her time travelling.

As for her trip to the office, "on a bad day both lights are red," Nicholson says. Commutes probably don't get much better than this. Door-to-door she's at work in 12 minutes, quite a change from the 75-minute, one-way trek she was used to, in which she rode a car, train and subway. Now she eats breakfast with her kids and has the ultimate luxury - after work she occasionally runs an errand for herself.

Nicholson brings home less pay than she did from her job in the Big Apple, largely because she switched industries and came in at a lower level. She gave up a clothing allowance, profit-sharing and stock options, but it was a trade-off she would make again.

Another plus: She has more in common with her co-workers, many of whom are working mothers. They often socialize on weekends. "It's nice I work with people I can relate to on a different level. There are a lot of very bright people who take pride in their work and understand what balance means." Bruce Zabarauskas / Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Schlissel WHEN BANKRUPTCY CASES took him to Long Island courtrooms during the last four years, Bruce Zabarauskas often faced lawyers from Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Schlissel. Zabarauskas represented secured creditors; Meltzer, Lippe, the debtors. Zabarauskas, 36, was employed by a Manhattan law firm, Baer, Marks & Upham, where he had carved out a nice career for five years, was up for partnership and hadn't considered leaving. However, when the Mineola firm's bankruptcy lawyers departed en masse to set up their own shop, Zabarauskas was contacted by managing partner Lew Meltzer to see if he would be interested in jumping ship.

He was, seizing an opportunity "to bring my practice home to Long Island," said the New Hyde Park native. "I wanted a quality practice, the kind I had in Manhattan. Meltzer, Lippe was the only firm on Long Island I would consider. I knew the quality of their work, the attorneys and how interesting the work they had was."

But there was a catch: Zabarauskas was interested in joining only if he could continue his specialty representing secured creditors, such as institutional lenders and real estate investors who purchase mortgages, not debtors, which had been Meltzer, Lippe's forte. He prevailed; the firm was willing to change sides to grab him.

He joined as a partner on Jan. 4. He spends his days wooing clients, interviewing lawyers to expand the two-person bankruptcy department and arguing cases.

By changing jobs, Zabarauskas sliced his commute from a two-hour drive morning and night into midtown Manhattan to "45 minutes on a bad day" from his driveway in Northport.

The shorter travel time freed up 10 hours a week. He whiles away some of those hours with his wife and 2-year-old son, whom they recently adopted from Bulgaria. But the rest of his newly found freedom isn't so carefree: In March he was elected village trustee in Northport. When he was sworn in this month, he also was appointed parks commissioner. Tammy Spodek / Harison Leifer Miller & Speyer THE SECOND TRY was a charm.

Tammy Spodek figured there were plenty of public relations firms on Long Island filled with qualified people representing exciting Long Island clients, so why not work closer to her East Atlantic Beach apartment and improve her quality of life?

She joined Commack-based Danny Frank Productions last summer, but quickly discovered that she, Danny and a receptionist were the whole production. The size of the firm and the pace of the business weren't exactly what she had in mind after having worked at Manhattan PR firms, such as Maury Rogoff Public Relations and Dan Klores Associates.

Even though she wasn't happy, she didn't actively look for a new job. But when she spotted a classified ad for a company she had heard about, she realized it was a "golden opportunity" and pursued it. Four months after leaving the Manhattan grind Spodek landed at a second desk, this time as an account manager at Harrison Leifer Miller & Speyer, an advertising and public relations firm in Rockville Centre.

It's a position the 25-year-old New York University graduate calls "the best of both worlds. It's a fast-paced environment on a calmed-down scale. Being on Long Island you don't lack the excitement, you lack the rat-race atmosphere."

Spodek zips home in 20 minutes, and on days she works late, she can sit down for dinner earlier than when she rode the rails. That commute, she says, took the fun out of her career. She started doing the suburbs-to-city shuffle in her freshman year of college and seven years later decided she had wasted enough time wedged on a train seat. Even though she is single, Spodek said she felt ready to settle on Long Island.

What she likes most is that Harrison Leifer feels like a Manhattan agency. Spodek, whose specialty is health care, uses the full resources of the firm: She works closely with the ad agency, draws on the art department's talents and bounces ideas off other staffers.

"I had the Manhattan experience," Spodek said. "Been there, done that. I don't have to go shop on 57th Street to enjoy my career. It's about the work and the clients and the people I work with when I'm in my office."

GRAPHIC: 1) Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara - For Imran Anwar, moving to the Island for a job with Computer Associates was a small sacrifice. 2) Newsday Photo / Julia Gaines - Ellen Kroner 3) Newsday Photo / Dick Kraus - Diane Nicholson 4) Newsday Photo / Don Jacobsen - Bruce Zabarauskas 5) Newsday Photo / K. Wiles Stabile- Tammy Spodek 6) Cover Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara- Imran Anwar, who traded stock options from his former employer for a job with Islandia-based Computer Associates, now has more time for leisure

LOAD-DATE: April 18, 1999