September 27, 2022

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What’s coming for LI restaurants, real estate and retail in 2022

10 min read

As unpredictable as it gets.

That’s how experts described the economic prospects for Long Island in 2022 because the coronavirus hasn’t gone away. They said the virus’ impact on employment and the availability of goods will continue for at least three more months.

Still, the experts said Long Island’s economy is strong, in part because consumer spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels. Spending accounts for 70% of economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, they said.

“I’m more optimistic than I was a few weeks ago because omicron seems less ominous than we initially thought,” said John A. Rizzo, an economist and professor at Stony Brook University. “Yes, cases are spiking but the number of deaths is not – and we have more treatments than we did and high vaccination rates. …We will see stronger economic growth in February and March than in January,” he said.

Rizzo and others identified manufacturing, health care and education as likely standouts in the next three months. Sectors that could lag include residential real estate if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

Higher prices will continue for months “but we’re not going to have runaway inflation,” Rizzo said, adding prices will likely rise 5% to 6% year-over-year before moderating in 2023.

Economist Richard Vogel, dean of Farmingdale State College’s business school, warned that inflation could still slow economic growth.

“There’s still a lot of caution on the part of individuals – and it’s not only about the coronavirus. Everybody seems to be talking about inflation, which could eventually curtail consumer spending as people spend more for energy and other essentials,” he said.

Vogel predicted a wave of innovation as new and existing companies translate the lessons that they learned from the pandemic into new goods and services. The surge in creativity will lead to hiring and profits, he said.

“There will be opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Vogel said. “There are new ways for firms to do business.” – James T. Madore

LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT

Strong demand for labor is likely to continue into the new year, though whether hiring efforts will be hampered by COVID or resulting market trends is unknown, said Steve Kent, economics professor at Molloy College.

“One of the issues is employees’ willingness to expose themselves to potential illness,” he said, adding that service sector employers will likely continue to see hiring difficulty.

Kent said he expects employers to increase wages as they attempt to lure job seekers. The Island’s scheduled minimum wage increase to $15 on Dec. 31 may also have a ripple effect on workers already making above that.

Access to child care will play a big part in some residents’ ability to return to the job market, said Shital Patel, state Labor Department economist.

“The lack of availability of child care is definitely still an issue both here and across the country,” Patel said. She said day care employment this year was down 23% from 2019 levels. — Victor Ocasio

REAL ESTATE

After a year of record-setting prices and fast-paced sales, experts expect Long Island home price appreciation to slow in 2022 as mortgage rates creep up and more houses come up for sale.

But industry watchers don’t expect the pendulum to swing all the way toward buyers anytime soon. In 2021, the number of houses for sale hit its lowest mark since 2003 because of intense buyer demand. That dynamic isn’t likely to change, said Jonathan Miller, CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

“You’d have to have a dramatic drop in demand to create a significant increase in supply,” he said.

Borrowing will get slightly more expensive if the Federal Reserve takes action to slow inflation, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. NAR forecasts an average 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 3.5% in 2022 compared with 3.1% in December.

Deirdre O’Connell, CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, said there isn’t much room left for price appreciation in this market. She expects buyers to remain interested in larger homes that can accommodate work-from-home or hybrid work schedules as the effects of the pandemic linger.

“For the next couple of years, people are going to want more out of their homes because they are spending more time in their homes,” O’Connell said. — Jonathan LaMantia

HEALTH CARE

“COVID has changed a lot of things, and I think quite frankly, some of it is good. It has changed the way we use technology,” said Michael Dowling, CEO of New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health. “One of the things that we will be dramatically enhancing will be the use of the digital aspect of medical care delivery.”

It’s likely that when patients are ill, they’ll see their health-care providers online instead of in person when appropriate, he said.

At the same time, the pandemic has exposed inequities.

The health care industry faces “the double challenge of managing COVID-19 while maintaining a strong focus on health equity, making quality care more accessible to the underserved and uninsured,” said Patrick M. O’Shaughnessy, CEO of Catholic Health. The Rockville Centre-based health system is sending outreach buses staffed by nurses into Long Island communities so residents can get free screenings, education and referrals.

Long Islanders will continue to need help coping with mental health and substance abuse issues, said Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO of Family and Children’s Association in Garden City. The group’s Thrive Recovery & Community Outreach Centers in Islandia and Westbury, which help people facing substance abuse disorders, have had about 14,500 visits through November, more than double the number in all of 2019, he said. And low funding for mental health services – which results in low pay for many providers – is making it challenging to attract and retain staff, he said.

“As we ride this roller coaster of, ‘We seem to be out of the woods, everything’s great,’ to, ‘Oh, there’s a new strain,’ … I worry a lot about folks who are on that roller coaster ride who are having a hard time, especially young people.” — Maura McDermott

WAREHOUSES

Hundreds of jobs will be created as Amazon expands its footprint and other retailers grow their warehousing operations to meet increased online orders.

Amazon plans to open at least four new warehouses — in Woodmere, Syosset, Holbrook and Melville — by the end of 2022 to make “last-mile” deliveries. Each will have between 50 and 150 employees, and hundreds more will be hired as van drivers by the small transportation companies that pick up packages for delivery to doorsteps.

Amazon expects to have at least 10 last-mile warehouses on Long Island.

Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said the supermarket chain is hiring 100 more drivers and shopping personnel for its “warerooms,” which are attached to stores in East Northport, Farmingdale, Hempstead village, Medford, Riverhead and South Setauket. Nearly 800 people already prepare grocery orders for curbside pickup and home delivery, she said.

The number of people working in the local warehousing and transportation sector has increased by 1,800 to 35,270 compared with 2020, according to recent data from the state Department of Labor. – James T. Madore

OFFSHORE WIND

After years of public hearings, permit filings and survey work, the first shovels are expected to hit the ground for offshore wind farm project development on Long Island in early 2022.

The South Fork Wind Farm, a partnership of Orsted and Eversource for up to 12 turbines 30 miles from Montauk, recently received approval from the federal government for its construction and operations plan, so onshore work will start early in 2022, the companies said. One final federal approval is pending.

South Fork in 2022 will employ around 100 people on Long Island, using union labor, to build the onshore substation, underground transmission infrastructure and interconnection facilities needed for the project in East Hampton. The project is expected to begin producing energy in late 2023.

Additional hiring will take place in 2022 for an operations and maintenance hub in Setauket, a project office in Brookhaven, and a service-vessel operations center in Port Jefferson.

Ambitious offshore wind job training programs at Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College are expected to expand, and Sunrise Wind, another Orsted-Eversource project, will provide $10 million toward a national offshore wind training center, moving forward in 2022, with representatives from labor and Suffolk County Community College leading the effort.

While it’s closer to Long Island, Equinor’s Empire Wind project, 14 miles from Jones Beach, said it’s “a bit too early to give specifics” of its hiring plans for 2022, but said sourcing of local content in New York — and on Long Island specifically — “is a priority.” The project is expected to begin producing energy by the mid-2020s. — Mark Harrington

TOURISM

Long Island’s leisure travel scene will help the industry shape up in 2022, according to Kristen Reynolds, president of Discover Long Island, a regional trade group. But tourism is unlikely to rebound to the records set in 2019, with business and international travel still lagging, she said.

“We’ve already recovered a lot of ground,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic that 2022 will be a year of recovery.”

Hotels are generally back to about 75% to 80% of the occupancy they had in 2019, according to estimates from Mark Irgang, president of the Long Island Hospitality Association. But the rates they’re charging fell dramatically, and many will spend 2022 trying to raise them, he said.

“It’s going to take our industry a little bit to come back,” Irgang said.

Reynolds estimates that family vacations, romantic getaways and other leisure travel typically account for about 85% of the region’s tourism. So the area fared relatively well during the pandemic, when many traveled only for pleasure and preferred to drive, rather than fly.

In 2019, tourism spending amounted to $6.3 billion on Long Island and supported 80,100 jobs, according to Discover Long Island. Spending fell to $4 billion in 2020 and industry employment dropped to 58,960, the group said. — Sarina Trangle

RESTAURANTS

Restaurants enter the new year facing the same challenges they did in the old one: difficulty finding workers, higher food costs and diners worried about catching the coronavirus.

“Labor is still a huge challenge — everyone I talk to is shorthanded,” said Mario Saccente, president of the 500-member Long Island chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.

“There are a lot of unknowns, such as … will party cancellations continue because people are afraid of COVID,” he said. “Restaurants are very cautious about what’s ahead.”

Many of Long Island’s 9,200 eating and drinking establishments are hoping Congress will replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The COVID relief program quickly ran out of money in the summer, with only 12% of local eateries winning a grant, according to a Newsday analysis of federal data.

“If the RRF was refilled, there would be money to pay employees more, settle past debts, buy more [food] product and invest in improvements that bring in customers,” Saccente said.

The restaurant industry, like others, has been changed by the virus. Curbside pickup is here to stay, and takeout orders have become a key source of revenue.

“The way you did business before COVID doesn’t work anymore,” said Daniel Pedisich, owner of Konoba Huntington, which specializes in Croatian and Mediterranean cuisine.

James T. Madore

RETAIL

Long Island’s retail landscape is slated to improve, given the region’s current job numbers and consumer spending habits, according to an economic development expert.

But the qualifier is that that performance is relative to the stress on retail that has occurred on the Island amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to months of government-mandated business shutdowns, starting in March 2020, and supply chain shortages in 2021.

“Long Island has always been a decent job market. … To be here and to survive here, you’ve got to be able to keep your head above water economically,” said Richard Murdocco, an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University who teaches courses on urban planning, land use and economic development.

“The cloud looming over our head in 2022 is the question of inflation and then supply,” he said.

Retailers that will fare well in 2022 are those that sell clothes, footwear and beauty products, because consumers who haven’t needed to buy as much of those products while stuck at home during the pandemic will finally need to replace their old items as they return to office work and social events, said Marshal Cohen, a retail industry expert at the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington.

The third quarter of this year was strong for retail occupancy on Long Island, where the vacancy rate for shopping centers between 10,000 and 675,000 square feet was 8.9%, which was “a good deal below the national average of 10.4%,” said Thomas P. LaSalvia, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics CRE, a Manhattan-based real estate information provider. Tory N. Parrish