How to Revitalize Hawaii’s Economy
Dozens of ideas to get the Islands back on track
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Sullivan: Obviously the driver in this kind of discussion is the mongoose and rat scenario: Bringing in the mongoose to fix the rat problem without realizing where it’s heading. In talking about permitting on Waikiki Beach – we don’t want what’s happened to Kuta Beach in Indonesia. That’s development out of control. So this stuff has to be regulated adequately. So, you want to balance the local interests of diversifying the economy and creating jobs and sustainability, yet preserving what makes Hawaii special. That’s been an ongoing struggle here, except today we’ve swung too far on this issue and we need a more balanced approach. With biospecies and life-sciences technology – a lot of things that we have to deal with now didn’t even exist back in the days when the mongoose was brought in to get rid of the rat, yet we’re still thinking in the same terms. There are ways to upgrade our thinking that could be reflected in the way permit jockeys do their job and get reflected in policy.
Okimoto: Part of that problem is a mistrust of government by the environmental community because they fear these things will get out. So the bio-security plan that we’ve been pushing for the last five years is for a facility by the airport where we check everything coming in – and even things going out can be checked there rather than on the Mainland – and putting both federal and state people there. That would probably help the biotech industry and ag, too. Every time a new virus is found in the Islands, people ask me what should we do, and I keep telling people that we’re not going to be able to control it, period. We’re going to have varroa mites on every island, viruses on every island, myconia on every island, coqui frogs, because there are not enough controls, which is why this facility is really important. We spend so much time controlling invasives when they come here, but if we had put all that money into a biosecurity facility, we probably would have saved hundreds of millions that was spent trying to control invasives, especially in agriculture.
Sullivan says, “We’ve got an opportunity to grow all kinds of
Sullivan: The last time we did a real comprehensive plan here was during the Ariyoshi administration, and the world’s changed. It’s time to develop a plan for the future to integrate the world as it is today. A big vision. Why education matters is totally different today. The Internet didn’t exist when they did that plan. Not everybody is going to be happy about everything, but there’s the opportunity for a more thoughtful focus that reflects on ag, education, tourism and other things. For instance, manufacturing is changing. We’re talking about a thing now called miniature manufacturing that could be done very effectively in Hawaii. And there’s synergy among ag, the life sciences, the medical school. There’s this convergence of thinking and the infrastructure that is needed to make them succeed can be shared by everybody.
Okimoto: I think collaboration between all sectors helps. Right now, ag is partnering with Kyo-ya in presenting more local food at the (Starwood) hotels. Tech, of course, helps ag. We need leaders who are collaborative and bring industries together.
Belsby: I think there is value in creating a big vision, but I would not let that stop us from identifying five real projects that we can accomplish in the next 24 to 36 months. Projects that don’t require $200 million, but projects that might be $10 or $15 or $20 million, so collaboration has something to show for its efforts.
For example, we talk about agriculture sustainability and feeding ourselves in the event of some major disruption in shipping. If it’s a weather disaster, theoretically the crops just got destroyed. So, can we build a major cold-storage facility on the North Shore or on the Big Island or elsewhere? It could be built by something we’ve formed together – a farmers’ co-op, with support from other quarters. Green-energy technology could power it. I would rather have us think as a team about four or five projects that we could work on that are not going to stop us from dreaming the big vision.
Nishizaki: Industries helping each other is great, but right now, the tourist industry is the quick fix for Hawaii. We’ve got to get visitors back. Over the last two years, visitor spending has declined around 23 percent. Think of the multiplier effect in the community. The visitor industry employs around 160,000 people. That’s a large percentage of the workforce.
The visitor industry needs support. With all due respect to the senator, it’s “Visitors don’t vote, so let’s increase the tax.” On July 1, the TAT (transient accommodations tax, or hotel tax) went up another percentage point (to 9.25 percent). It’s not the right message to tourists.
The last thing is ag. We need homes here and housing, but visitors don’t come here to look at subdivisions or homes. We need the green space because that’s what they come to Hawaii for. Locals also like to look at green space. We need to balance that.
Okimoto: That’s a good point. Even ag and development can work hand in hand. I’ve been getting a lot of heat about supporting Hoopili (a proposed development in Ewa) and I truly support it because it’s in community growth plans. If that’s where the people want to grow communities, then I’m for it. That’s why rail is really important to the overall plan because development will be centralized around rail, and everything will go up and not out. That will preserve more land for agriculture.
Chock: Through our People’s Pulse Survey (conducted by Hawaii Business Roundtable and Pacific Resource Partnership), we asked local people, “How do you define sustainability?” Most defined sustainability as being able to raise a family in Hawaii, seeing their kids grow up here and have a job here. But Hawaii ranks 49th in the country in home ownership and 50th in intergenerational families living under the same roof. That won’t motivate local kids about coming back to Hawaii after they go away to get a good education. What message are we sending the business community when the state and the county made planning decisions 20 or 30 years ago to redirect urbanization and residential growth to Kapolei, and now there is an undercurrent that wants to revisit that decision?
A lot of dialogue has been on the jobs aspect of rail, but the long-term dialogue is about building an urban center from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu. We can address open space and redevelopment in an environmentally friendly way and still create more density in the urban core. The American dream doesn’t have to mean a home with a big yard, but it might be a 900-square-foot condo where you can live and work in Kakaako and be part of the life sciences or other budding industries.
Belsby: From an urban-growth perspective, we are in a state of transition, and transition is always painful. In the San Francisco Bay area 30 years ago, everyone was driving into San Francisco to work, not unlike everyone driving into Honolulu to work today. In the Bay area today, it’s a reverse commute: More people are going from San Francisco to San Jose in the morning because that is where the jobs are. I’m not suggesting 30 years from now everyone will be driving to Kapolei in the morning, but it will be more balanced. So, we have to approach some problems from a long-term perspective.
Some people are saying, “I want more agriculture.” But I think many are saying agriculture but mean open space. I don’t think we’ve really resolved, “Do we really need more agriculture or do we need open space?” Some studies suggest that we could largely be self-sustainable on vegetables and some fruits with 40,000 to 50,000 acres of good productive agricultural land. We have that much land. (Okimoto signals agreement.) What we don’t have is the labor to provide price-friendly food at the market. That’s because workers in agriculture, where labor rates are admittedly lower than in many other industries, cannot afford a home here. So the first thing we need to do is provide housing, because, under supply and demand, if we can supply enough housing, prices will moderate.
Sullivan: We are building a billion-dollar telescope on the Big Island and where are the crucial skilled technicians? Guys that can run a machine shop. Guys that can actually build things. They don’t need to have a degree from a four-year school to be a huge contributor. We need those kinds of people plus engineers and scientists. We’ve got an opportunity to grow all kinds of peripheral industries, but what are we doing about it? Not a whole lot. The community colleges, the (UH) College of Engineering, and the rest of the university, they should be part of creating jobs.
Dancil says universities are “the No. 1 source of innovation,”
Dancil: We are taking steps. Just last week at Oceanit, we had the community colleges come together, the engineering schools, to talk about preparing our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, creating internships and connecting kids to the private sector. I just held a SciTech Day at which scientists and engineers told kids that you’re just not studying a subject for its own sake, but here is a company in Hawaii that utilizes these skills.
Chock: One of the requirements to get into our union (Carpenters Union) is a math test and it’s written at the eighth-grade level: arithmetic, reading a ruler, a tape measure. Fifty percent of the kids who are DOE graduates cannot pass our math entrance exam. There’s a huge accountability problem in public education. I don’t think it’s a money problem. We spend more than higher-performing states, yet we’re not getting the results.
Fukunaga: We should be deploying government resources more strategically. For example, we need a state CIO (chief information officer). By the time Gov. Cayetano realized the importance of a statewide CIO to consolidate areas and utilize technology, it was the last two years of his administration. (Gov. Lingle) has a CIO who is also the state comptroller, but that is not an effective approach. I think the city administration and Mayor Hannemann have done a really good job of identifying areas that IT can help streamline government.
A new law we passed said there should be a state CIO, a cabinet level position, and there should be an advisory group of senior agency people who help identify best practices. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2011, and we think that can save us a huge amount of money.
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