APEC Gives Hawaii a Chance to Redefine its Image

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Photos: courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Hawaii
Convention Center, Thirty Meter Telescope, Pacific
Biodiesel, REC Solar, Tissue Genesis, state Energy
Office and Skai Ventures.

When up to 20,000 guests attend the APEC 2011 Leaders’ Week in November, the local blue-ribbon committee promoting business investment here won’t be touting Hawaii’s old standbys.

Instead of focusing on tourism, agriculture and real estate, the APEC 2011 Hawaii Host Committee will be shining the spotlight on what it sees as four emerging fields of excellence in Hawaii:

• Clean energy;
• Sky, ocean and earth sciences;
• Life and health sciences; and
• The visitor segment known as MICE: meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.

“We wanted to focus on the visitor industry in a different light – the business end of the spectrum, which is only 10 percent of our tourism business,” says Peter Ho, Bank of Hawaii president, CEO and chairman, who also serves as chairman of the Host Committee. “And we want to highlight some of the emerging areas, which are areas of opportunity.”

APEC is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group of countries and economies arrayed around the Pacific in Asia, Oceania, and North and South America. The APEC 2011 Leaders’ Week takes place in Honolulu Nov. 7 to 13, bringing President Barack Obama and 20 other global leaders, plus their cabinet ministers and other officials, business executives and news media to the state.

“Investment ready”

The Host Committee has been trumpeting Hawaii’s “spirit of discovery and entrepreneurship,” and how the Islands are a great place to do business, launch projects, test innovations and make investments. The committee contracted with Hawaii Business to prepare a special edition of the magazine that will feature Hawaii’s areas of excellence and be distributed to all 20,000 visiting delegates, business leaders and media. It is the only locally produced publication that will be delivered to the delegates as part of their welcome packages. The Host Committee is also using video, brochures, websites and other media to get its message across.

Twenty-six projects and companies were initially pitched to foreign news media, some of them private enterprises are considered “investment ready.” More than half were under the University of Hawaii’s umbrella, including scientific partnerships in astronomy at Mauna Kea and Haleakala. 

“The university is actually one of the big investment opportunities in this community,” says Ho. “Here you have a research university in the middle of the Pacific, on U.S. soil, serving a population of 1.3 million. They’re getting over $400 million a year in grants. The ability is there to leverage opportunity out of that.” 

Two of the featured projects were state initiatives: the electric-vehicles project of the state Energy Office and the Kaupuni net-zero-energy community in Waianae, a project of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Medical research at The Queen’s Medical Center was also on the tip-sheet.

Skai Ventures says DeconGel is easy to apply, easy
to remove when dry and a safe and effective way
to remove contaminants.

Last month, the committee shifted into high gear to promote a bigger batch of businesses and activities it believes APEC business people will find attractive. The committee selected 35 Hawaii businesses for the APEC 2011 Hawaii Business Innovation Showcase, then named four county winners and selected Skai Ventures as the overall state winner (see the next page for a complete list of winners). All these companies will be highlighted in a Virtual Exhibition Hall on the Internet and included on story-idea lists for foreign media.

Among the criteria for selection, according to the host committee’s website, was that a Showcase company demonstrate “unique, leading and cutting-edge innovations in product development, technology, marketing or delivery” that have growth and investment potential.

The judges selecting the top five companies looked for projects “that would raise some eyebrows,” Ho says.

He says exhibit venues to promote Hawaii companies would be set up at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, Ala Moana Center and the Royal Hawaiian Center. APEC delegates will also be able to learn more about the companies on television in their hotel rooms.

Award winners                                                                                                          

During the run-up to APEC, Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Suresh Kumar stopped in Honolulu to present two Hawaii companies with Export Achievement Awards in recognition of export sales and expansion into new foreign markets.

Kumar called the winners, biotech innovator CBI Polymers LLC and solar collector panel maker Sopogy Inc., perfect examples of what Asia-Pacific investors are looking for – and can find – in Hawaii.

“People who think of Hawaii think of the stereotype of sun and fun and beach, but here are two absolutely fabulous companies with newer technologies consistent with what President Obama calls ‘Our need to out-innovate the world,’ ” says Kumar, who is also director general of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

The Commerce Department honored Skai Ventures’ CBI Polymers unit for helping Hungary respond to a massive chemical spill in October 2010 and assisting Japan’s earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts. CBI’s DeconGel has been used in those countries to clean up toxic waste and radioactive contamination.

Skai Ventures founder, Dr. Hank C.K. Wuh, says CBI has proved that small companies in Hawaii can have a dramatic impact on big issues. From an unimposing office building in Moiliili, Wuh’s portfolio of companies is working on reversing corneal blindness, improving human health and cleaning up massive environmental damage that could someday threaten national and international security.

Skai Ventures says DeconGel is easy to apply, easy
to remove when dry and a safe and effective way to
remove contaminants.

“Hawaii is a perfectly great place to do business and we are a living example of that,” Wuh says. “In the modern era, it’s not about infrastructure; it’s about intellect and knowledge. So if I can attract the greatest minds and the smartest people ... and encourage them to solve difficult problems with unique solutions, and if I can convince them to do it here, that’s our advantage.”

The Commerce Department’s export program recognized Sopogy Inc. for teaming up with a Thailand company to use the company’s Hawaii-developed technology to produce solar energy in Southeast Asia.

Sopogy’s MicroCSP solar-power collection system is “just the right technology for the export market because it is microscaled, solar-tracking, heat-storing … and it is affordable,” Kumar says.

In July, Sopogy president and CEO Darren T. Kimura signed a memorandum of understanding with a Thai energy company to build a solar plant in northeastern Thailand and distribute Sopogy products in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Kimura says he is in talks with other potential partners in Japan, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Kimura says that having the APEC summit in Honolulu gives companies like his a chance to get on the radar of the dignitaries, CEOs and business people who attend. “We want to bring our products to their attention because our technologies are very appropriate for Asia-Pacific markets. In fact, we design them for those markets.”

With a nod to APEC, Kumar says: “Just looking at these two companies as examples, you can see that Hawaii is more than travel and tourism. Asia-Pacific delegates will be well served to look beyond the tourism at the newer technology and products that Hawaii companies have.”

Solar innovators

Hoku Corp. is another Island-based solar-energy company that has been successful in selling to Asia and, ultimately, attracting a big investor from China.

“If you can do big solar deals from here, do projects here and show a track record, you can expand from Hawaii and succeed as a global company,” says Jerrod Schreck, president of a Hoku division, Hoku Solar Inc.

The original Hawaii company, Hoku Scientific, evolved from a solar-cells company into two separate operating companies: Hoku Materials, a Pocatello, Idaho-based polysilicon manufacturing company; and Honolulu-based Hoku Solar, which provides turnkey photovoltaic systems for commercial, institutional and government clients, and assists real estate developers with solar projects.

At the end of last year, Hoku’s star moved under a bigger corporate sky when Tianwei New Energy Holdings Co. Ltd. became 60-percent majority shareholder. A manufacturer of electrical transformer and grid components, Tianwei is itself part of a conglomerate called China South Industries Group.

“From early on, our company culture was to take a laptop, get on a plane and do some deals in Asia. We’ve benefitted from that over time because we’ve maintained strong links to Asia,” Schreck says.

Business travel

The APEC Hawaii Host Committee is also promoting the Hawaii Convention Center as a place to hold conventions and meetings with aloha.

While convention centers around the nation vie for the same business by promising to boost attendance, Honolulu has a track record for helping scientific, technological and life sciences groups attract more attendees from the APEC region.

Randall Tanaka, assistant general manager of the Hawaii Convention Center, says major international conventions of scientific and medical organizations like the IEEE, International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and the International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies (Pacifichem), see attendance from Asia soar whenever they meet in Hawaii.
“Naturally, it’s easier and more convenient for them to come here as opposed to Boston,” but there’s more to it than that, Tanaka says.

Convention Center and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau experts assist U.S. associations by translating sales pitches into Asian languages, and actually escort them to Asia to meet the leadership of the organizations they’re trying to lure here.

“We’re reaching out to them and we’re helping them pull from Asia,” Tanaka says.

In addition, the Convention Center says it has worked with U.S. embassies to smooth the way for delegates through the visa process. Nonstop flights from Japan, Korea and, now, China also help draw Asian convention delegates here.

Hosting APEC on behalf of President Barack Obama is “a defining moment for Hawaii,” according to Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz. It not only gives Hawaii a unique opportunity to reinforce its position as a world-class destination and showcase its economic potential, it showcases Hawaii as an international-business meeting place, he says.

“It’s a game-changer,” agrees Tanaka.


Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Nov 11, 2011 03:59 pm
 Posted by  Perspiring Minds

RE: APEC 2011

Pres. Obama is flying to Hawaii for the APEC-2011 meetings. I was the NGO coordinator for the Seattle-APEC meetings in 1993. A coalition of environmental, labor and human rights groups marched and bird dogging these meetings. We meet with APEC Secretariat US Ambassador Boddie. We also published four issues of APEC '93 Watch "ECO" that are posted at:


- David E. Ortman, Seattle, WA

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