Russell Ruderman: Invest In The Things Hawaii Actually Needs - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Russell Ruderman

Russell Ruderman is a former state senator and Big Island business owner. He writes about state and county politics, business, agriculture and the local food industry. Russell lives in Kea’au with his wife and daughter. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Civil Beat. You can reach him at

Food, education, housing and health care should take priority over projects that are eye-catching but unnecessary.

Often, a proposed development encounters resistance and opposition in Hawaii, and it seems to come as a surprise to those proposing it. So much so that some say Hawaii is a tough place to do business and people will “oppose everything.”

But is this really true? Or are we simply selective about what kinds of developments ought to occur here, and deserve our support?

Recently we have seen the end of the line (or so it seems) for the troubled Hu Honua project after a decade of attempts to complete this. Yet we also see worthy, helpful projects such as the governor’s medical respite kauhale completed in less than a year.

The kauhale, to serve medical needs of homeless people, is needed and helps the community, and has been welcomed even by those living nearby. The Hu Honua project had little support from the community as it is not needed and not helpful.

Political leaders and business developers often promote and court new industries and “high tech” as the solution for Hawaii’s economy. It’s understandable because things like manufacturing are rarely likely to succeed in our remote, high-cost location. Because the internet is available everywhere it’s tempting to think that high-tech developments will work easily and be useful. Such proposals sound exciting and new.

By contrast, “low tech“ developments and proposals seem boring to such leaders. Food, education, housing, health care … ho hum. Who needs that?

In fact this is exactly what we need. If we prioritize investing in the things that the people of Hawaii need, those proposals are much more likely to succeed and will be welcomed instead of facing resistance.

More importantly, development in these areas improve the quality of life for Hawaii residents instead of degrading it or being neutral. They will also benefit our economy.

Let us imagine investing heavily in the things that we need here for our own population. We would be guided to invest in our local food system, for example, which would keep more of our dollars circulating in our own economy instead of flowing to the mainland. 

This could also bring benefits in terms of food quality, health, lower prices and more reliable local jobs. We would be employing those who already live here rather than importing specialists. 

These low tech, less glamorous jobs would be an integral part of our community, would not put further pressure on our housing costs, and would have a multiplier effect as money circulates locally.

Full disclosure: I am in the food business. But this is not about my business, it’s about our society. Food businesses tend to succeed because people like to eat repeatedly! It doesn’t depend on tourism, the internet or specialists from the mainland. It brings benefits to both employees and customers.

The same is true in the education, health care and housing. These industries employ people who actually live here and they serve people who live here. They improve our quality of life. By not requiring specialists from the mainland, they do not drive up our housing costs, but rather lower our cost of living.

The Hu Honua renewable biomass plant on the Big Island is an example of a flashy high-tech project that just wasn’t needed or wanted by anyone but investors and politicians. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Compare this to a long list of failed developments and those that have had such trouble getting established. A typical example is Hu Honua, which wanted to burn trees for higher electric rates. Other examples include the Superferry, Thirty Meter Telescope, the First Responders Tech Campus and a massive stadium that is not really needed. Or high-tech startups that lure specialists during the startup phase, increase housing costs, then usually migrate to the mainland for growth. 

Repeatedly we have seen short-sighted political leaders propose rocket launch facilities, which are widely opposed by those in impacted areas. For what? More pollution, more noise, more pressure on housing costs, and all profits going offshore to mainland companies. (I will leave rail off this list for now, in the spirit of optimism.)

All these things cost a fortune and often involve tax incentives and exemptions. We are expected to pay for it when we can barely afford life as it is, and forego whatever tax income we normally would gain from needed developments.

We need to ask “Does this proposal make life better for our residents?”

I am not opposed to high-tech developments in principle, but they don’t compare with developments that actually serve our people. These do not deserve our prioritized support. We can’t pay for everything so we must prioritize.

Hu Honua serves as an example of a bad development. It would benefit no one except those few employed by it, and the investors who take the money out of state with them. 

Worse, it would have harmed all the rest of us who live here with higher electric rates, traffic hazards and increased pollution. It failed to address any actual need because we already have plenty of cleaner, cheaper, renewable power. No one was calling for such a development except those off-island investors that saw an opportunity for profit, and the greedy politicians who were paid to support it.

Is it a surprise that such developments do not engender widespread support from the people of Hawaii?

Compare this with investments in our community and our population. If we were to invest in local food production in a rational and pono way, there would be no opposition and there would be widespread support. 

If we seriously invest in our health care needs such as improving access to care and supporting doctors and nurses, such investment would be cheered rather than resisted.

If we improve education by investment in better schools, more support for teachers, expanding our educational system to early childhood, and providing vocational training for young adults, these investments would be welcomed.

If we improve access to affordable housing, we improve our society, keep our children from having to move, and reduce financial stress.

When our political leaders propose unneeded developments with negative consequences, it should not be a surprise when they encounter resistance. Often these leaders are serving corporate interests and not the people of Hawaii. 

We need to re-orient our thinking to put the needs of our people first. We need to ask “Does this proposal make life better for our residents?”

By doing so we will avoid opposition to proposed developments and instead bring lasting benefits to our society and our economy.

It’s simple really. Invest in and prioritize what the people actually need, and we will create a better Hawaii.

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About the Author

Russell Ruderman

Russell Ruderman is a former state senator and Big Island business owner. He writes about state and county politics, business, agriculture and the local food industry. Russell lives in Kea’au with his wife and daughter. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Civil Beat. You can reach him at

Latest Comments (0)

"Full disclosure: I am in the food business"As we all know, food inflation is going bonkers, especially for families and fixed income seniors here in Hawaii.Besides housing costs, food inflation is the major cause of the working-class exodus from Hawaii.Since inflation will be with us as long as the Fed Government prints money to cover its increasing deficit budgets in the trillions which will guarantee more inflation, do you think there is a tipping point for us here in Hawaii?Food production on a large scale is a challenge in Hawaii. Land costs, lack of labor, water, weather, bugs all combine to make food production unable to meet the demand.Importing food costs will increase and so will the economic stress. How much more inflationary stress can the residents of Hawaii take?Everyone in Hawaii is dependent on the US economic system that is showing signs of being unstable. Our rising food, health care, and housing costs are all dictated to us by this economic system that is controlled far from our shores.Is this financial system changing faster than we can reorient?

Joseppi · 2 months ago

Housing, healthcare, and education? The problem isn't inept leadership, and it isn't the lack of sex appeal surrounding these topics. The voters electing our leaders speak loud and clear, but for those in the back:Voters do not want more housing. They own their homes. They cannot see past their property values. Also, please don't raise the property taxes -- that's real oppression!Voters are on medicare and have pensions. They haven't a need to worry about healthcare. Voters don't have school age children. Who cares about someone else's kids? Their kids moved to the mainland a long time ago.

rs84 · 2 months ago

You lost me! Your obvious short sightedness with the Superferry & TMT. I agree unnecessary Stadium & First Responder but Superferry or something like it would have been incredibly beneficial. Farmers from neighbor islands were driving their refrigerated trucks loaded with produce to the farmers markets & visa versa. Ige & others said Superferries would not benefit enough of the population. (lol Rail) It was a legitimate try by private entrepeneurs, hampered at every turn by bureaucrats & corporate interests fronted by fake environmentalists, which could really have improved our lives by connecting the islands - not having to rely on the always negative experience to our airport (lineups & no parking) HAL & shipping monopoly front & center. TMT, gives us an awesome opportunity to diversify & economically benefit Hawaiian communities, solely based on our rare location. This is one of the most important projects in the world, held back by a very negative, very vocal minority who unfortunately chose TMT to protest & a wimpy response by Ige that failed to nip it in the bud. I'm sick of hearing about the past grievances (some legitimate) & questionable ancient, religious practises.

Concernedtaxpayer · 2 months ago

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