The third time was the charm on Friday for state senators trying to gain an understanding of Gov. David Ige’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis.
After pulling the plug on two previously planned presentations at the last minute, the state’s economic development director on Friday kicked off a series of presentations by top administrators from agencies attached to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Nothing in the two-hour presentation suggested DBEDT has crafted a miracle cure for Hawaii’s collapsing economy. But some officials clearly showed they were pivoting to create jobs and fill community needs.
Among the bright spots were plans to shift creative media workers from fields like filmmaking to creating content for distance learning, an outline of how renewable energy projects underway or proposed could create about 5,700 jobs in the next few years and prospects for jobs in the aerospace industry.
The overall tone belied statements made previously by DBEDT director Mike McCartney, who twice before abruptly told senators he and his staff wouldn’t give presentations because senators had allegedly bullied the DBEDT officials.
The first instance came on May 21, when McCartney and DBEDT officials were scheduled to speak at a joint informational briefing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
McCartney did the same thing two weeks later, on June 4, when officials were supposed to speak to the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.
“Please know I am (and the entire DBEDT Ohana) are ready, fully committed and eager to participate in the policy making process — such as hearings — but only when I (as the Director) can be assured that DBEDT employees will no longer be subjected to bullied, harassment, intimidation and threats which have created a hostile work environment,” McCartney wrote in an email to Senate President Ron Kouchi just before McCartney was scheduled to kick off a series of presentations.
But there was no hint of bullying, or even tough questioning, during Friday’s informational briefing before the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19.
Dennis Ling, administrator of the Business Development and Support Division, mentioned a new online marketplace for local products, scheduled to go live in July. Greg Barbour, executive director of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, briefly described opportunities in aquaculture, including the Trump administration’s stated interest in growing the field.
Scott Glenn, chief energy officer in the Hawaii State Energy Office, estimated that the 50 wind, solar and battery storage projects being planned or under development statewide could create just under 5,700 jobs statewide. And Gwen Yamamoto Lau, administrator of the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority, mentioned a program that could use federal money to help pay for more residential green energy projects in rural parts of the state, which include virtually all of Hawaii except developed parts of East Oahu.
Georja Skinner, chief officer of the Creative Industries Division, spoke of setting up creative projects to help fill the hole left by the largely shuttered motion picture production business as well as opportunities for musicians tossed out of work amid the shut down of tourism. Those include a television program similar to Austin City Limits featuring Hawaii artists performing at the Hawaii Theatre.
Skinner and Lau also talked about a project to create educational content for the growing field of distance learning. The initial idea, they said, is to employ filmmakers, game designers and other creatives making an educational program that teaches financial literacy. The model, they said, could be used for other subjects as well, used in Hawaii and exported elsewhere.
The idea is to make learning interesting, Lau said.
“How do we take our content and make it really engaging?” Lau said.
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