Building A Vibrant Economy For Hawaii Island - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Authors

Ashley Kierkiewicz

Ashley Kierkiewicz is a member of the Hawaii County Council, representing District 4 (Lower Puna).

Farrah-Marie Gomes

Farrah-Marie Gomes is vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Since 2019, Vibrant Hawaii has galvanized multigenerational, multi-sector stakeholders from every district of Hawaii island to shift deficit narratives and increase equity and wealth. Utilizing the collective action framework, efforts are conducted through streams: economy, education, financial resilience, health, housing and resilience hubs.

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We envision an island community where people have chances and choices.

As part of the Vibrant Hawaii grounding statement, we state that we value auamo kuleana, or shouldering responsibility. We demonstrate this by:

     A commitment to empowerment rooted in our belief that everyone has skills and abilities but needs circumstances and opportunities to express those skills and abilities.

     Promoting language that recognizes a person’s abilities. 

     Shared ownership and accountability: If any one of us stumbles, we all fall because we are all connected.

In this context, to advance resilient economic growth, we facilitated a process to elevate community voices and perspectives and develop what we’ve needed all along: a diverse economic portfolio.

In the beginning of 2020, the Vibrant Hawaii Economy Stream convened to raise awareness of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a regional blueprint for sustainable economic growth that provides opportunities to unlock federal resources, recovery dollars and infrastructure investments. The disasters of 2018 — the Kilauea eruption, flooding, Hurricane Lane — meant significantly more economic recovery dollars were available to our region; $587 million to be exact. But were we ready for it?

Beginning in July 2020, we engaged stakeholders across sectors and regions to learn more about six industries our community identified in their vision of a vibrant Hawaii: creative and performing arts; education; sustainable and resilient food systems; health; regenerative and community-driven tourism; and software, technology and creative media.

Downtown Hilo seen from across the bay with Mauna Kea in the background. All six industries identified in the vision of a vibrant Hawaii can be found in Hilo, including education, health care and creative and performing arts. Courtesy: Andrew Hara

The economy and education streams converged to host seven Zoom panel discussions and do a deep dive into industry challenges and opportunities. A framework for the Vibrant Hawaii economic development strategy was developed consistent with the standards of the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Community working groups were formed to build off panel discussions and craft sections of the strategy.

After nearly a year of development, we’re sharing our community’s work — a living document that anyone can act on, and that Vibrant Hawaii core teams will hold themselves accountable to. A core principle of this work is asset-based community development: Projects are organized along the lines of what the community can do themselves, what community can do with a little help and what others — such as government, business and philanthropy — need to do.

Rather than focusing on what we don’t have, we deliberately elevated what we do have and what’s working, creating opportunities for anyone to get involved and contribute to a more diverse economy.

We’ve shared this work with representatives from the EDA, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and philanthropic groups. They are curious about the process of community engagement and even more interested in how quickly our community has mobilized to take action.

Our methodology is simple — shift community voice to community power. Our efforts are grounded in talk story and the belief that everyone has something to contribute. This changes the collective from focusing on what others should do to what we want to do together.

The Hamakua Coast north of Hilo, where existing industries include sustainable food systems and community-driven tourism. Courtesy: Andrew Hara

Since completing the Economic Development Strategy blueprint in July 2021, multi-sector core teams have initiated projects such as an art documentary, building workforce through internship opportunities, a health hoike, a regenerative aina volunteer opportunities platform, digital badging and more.

Core teams work in 90-day action cycles to prototype ideas and establish proof of concept, or take small bites out of larger work needed to accomplish big projects. At the close of each action cycle, we will publish quarterly impact reports to showcase what’s been accomplished, what we have learned and where we’re headed.

We are grateful to the 300+ individuals who engaged with us via online platforms over the last year to learn more about the economic development process and to contribute to this strategy. Our hope is that their work is woven into the formal blueprint once that work begins.

A special mahalo to all of our panelists for sharing their hopes and perspectives. Heartfelt gratitude to all core teams for their incredible efforts and their ongoing commitment to bring projects to life.

With billions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act money available to support economic recovery and resilience, Hawaii island stands ready to secure funds and build a more vibrant island economy. Intrigued? Join us.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Authors

Ashley Kierkiewicz

Ashley Kierkiewicz is a member of the Hawaii County Council, representing District 4 (Lower Puna).

Farrah-Marie Gomes

Farrah-Marie Gomes is vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Latest Comments (0)

The Big Island is and awesome and amazing island, lived there for 22 years. It's a tough go improving the economy of the island. There are many residents that are pretty much living in poverty or near poverty. I'm especially concerned with the tenuous supply chains to the island. Grow as much food as  you can. Best wishes.

Honopue · 2 years ago

Details, please, details.  HOW is this all going to happen?  IÊ»ve read nothing concrete, only aspirational in the vaguest of terms.And a detail RE the second illustrative photo.  That is an aerial view of Honolii Bridge and Beach Park, safely and firmly ensconced in the current District of South Hilo, traditionally known as Hilo Paliku.  The Boundary of Hamakua is 25 miles up the coast, toward Waipio.

Patutoru · 2 years ago

How do we "build a vibrant economy" with NIMBY neighbors, anti-growth politics, and a lack of basic infrastructure?

wishful_thinker · 2 years ago

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