Big Island Big Ideas
Local leaders chart six ways to revitalize the economy
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3. Create and Export Ideas
Hawaii’s isolation hinders exports, but Hamabata sees it differently. “We might not be able to manufacture very many goods, but we sure can export the stuff between our ears,” he says. “Knowledge, ideas, innovation. That’s what will boost our economy and what we can offer to the rest of the world.”
UH-Hilo’s Tseng couldn’t agree more. She says her campus is a living laboratory for the state’s top minds. It recently added two doctorate programs – pharmacy and Hawaiian language – and six new master’s programs. “I think higher education and advanced-degree programs are a huge economic stimulus because it means local kids won’t have to go to Mainland colleges to get a quality education,” Tseng says. “We need to reverse the brain drain and keep our talent in the Islands.” Student enrollment has increased 50 percent over 10 years to more than 4,000.
Tseng says state budget cuts have forced UH Hilo to eliminate some courses. “Right now, we’re doing OK, but the state needs to remember that if you cut to the bone, it’s hard to revive.” Too many reductions could force top-notch faculty and students to go elsewhere.
“Tourism, construction, infrastructure, those are all important,” Tseng says. “But education is the foundation. It, alone, has the ability to generate buildings, income, knowledge, research, social vitality, cultural understanding, international recognition and global awareness. And those are all priceless.”
4. Build Roads to Opportunity
The County of Hawaii will receive $96.4 million in federal stimulus to build roads, repair bridges, and expand and repair water and wastewater systems.
“One of the things that’s always been a challenge is our transportation system,” says the development board’s Hoover. “We have to look at where we want to be and then reverse engineer.”
Transportation upgrades mean construction jobs and would shorten the two-hour commute between East and West Hawaii. “Who knows, that could prompt some businesses to expand or give residents greater accessibility to higher-paying jobs and education,” Hoover says. “That would certainly improve our economy.”
Saddle Road, which runs from downtown Hilo to Kona, with access to the slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, is undergoing the second phase of realignment.
Kenoi says the county will expedite permits to get these projects rolling. “If people aren’t working because of economic forces beyond our control, no can help,” he says. “But if people aren’t working because of the inefficiencies of our permitting, planning or building procedures, that’s just inexcusable.”
The county is also building a $50 million West Hawaii Civic Center, the Keaukaha Military Reservation Armed Forces Reserve Center near the Hilo Airport, $28 million in workforce housing in Waikoloa, and is contracted for $110.5 million more for new and ongoing construction.
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