Hawaii’s unique beauty and location have served us well, but the status quo is not going to cut it in the near future. I’m talking about Hawaii slowly becoming a place only for rich people — and our Legislature could be faulted, particularly this 2019 legislative session where we “sat on our hands” regarding our economy.

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It has taken decades, but Hawaii has been pretty good at leveraging its strategic advantage as a visitor destination and a defense outpost.

However, if we’re going to succeed as a state, our economy has got to get stronger and stop expelling our youth and low- to middle-income earners to the mainland.

How states do this is by developing its “strategic advantages” or where they have a “competitive advantage” over other states, nations or locations.

Hawaii has four budding industries we neglected to pay attention to in the 2019 session:

First, we have the potential to be the “Hollywood of the Pacific,” but only threw a bone to the budding film industry by expanding the film tax credit from $35 million to $50 million, even though for every dollar we invest as a tax credit, we receive $4 in return in the form of taxes, wages, and goods and services purchased. A greater expansion of the credit to $70 million would have cemented us as the “Hollywood of the Pacific.”

Second, and as often stated by some in the Legislature, Hawaii can become the “Geneva of the Pacific” with its two elite diplomatic centers of excellence at the Asian Pacific Security Studies Center and the East-West Center— which now ranks as the fourth-best government-affiliated think tank in the world.

Rep Gene Ward speaks in oppostion to the pot bill during floor session.

Rep. Gene Ward speaking on the House floor in March.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

These diplomatic centers, coupled with Hawaii’s central location between the United States and the Asia-Pacific Region, give us an opportunity to lead in peacekeeping efforts throughout the region in a similar way Geneva, Switzerland, plays mediator for European and African nations.

Third, Hawaii has the potential to become the “Kennedy-like Space Center of the Pacific.” Our state has played an integral role in space exploration throughout our history, namely training astronauts for the Apollo lunar missions and cutting-edge advancement aerospace technology.

Now, thanks to the leadership of Tetris rights owner and the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism space advisory committee chair Henk Rogers, scientists and engineers around the world are looking more to Hawaii Island’s lunar-like geography to train astronauts for future moon explorations and create a market for aerospace tourism on the Big Island.

More Missed Opportunities

Unfortunately, House Concurrent Resolution 229, which supported Mr. Rogers’ efforts to build an international lunar research and development park that could train all the astronauts in the world, failed to pass the Legislature this year.

Lastly, we have the opportunity to become the “World Sports Arena of the Pacific.” For years, Hawaii prided itself as the host of the NFL’s Pro Bowl, bringing in thousands of fans across the country to watch the NFL’s best at Aloha Stadium.

It would be foolish to rely solely on tourism and the military to create a flourishing economy.

This session, as we prepared to build a new stadium and district surrounding it, we sorely missed the mark by not including ways to solicit naming rights and bring in private-sector money to build an even better stadium than is currently planned, and at a lower cost to taxpayers.

Additionally, with the rise of mixed martial arts and Hawaii-born fighters Max Holloway and Yancy Medeiros, it would be fitting to host the world’s best for a UFC title fight here in the Aloha State.

As we take inventory of all of Hawaii’s strategic advantages, it would be foolish to rely solely on tourism and the military to create a flourishing economy. If we cease to act, innovate and capitalize on our other strategic advantages, potential opportunities will leave our islands for other locations with our local residents following them.

The bottom line for the future of Hawaii and the 2020 Legislature: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

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