Lingle sees new direction for economy
FIRST there were whales.
Hawaii's economy, at one time, was all about whales. Mark Twain wrote from Honolulu in an 1866 dispatch for the Sacramento Daily Union that without whales, "this town would die."
"Its business men would leave and its real estate would become valueless, at least as city property. ... Honolulu fits out and provisions a majority of 96 whalers this year and receives a very respectable amount of money for it," Twain noted.
Changing economies, the discovery of oil, the Civil War and the rise of plantations and missionaries all halted the whale trade.
The island economy bobbed along with plantations growing sugar cane and pineapple, then soared during World War II as the population rose with troops and Pearl Harbor workers.
And then came the 707s and 747s and the tourists.
The once mighty plantations tumbled, the fields left fallow or divvied up into pretend farms for the dot-com millionaires from San Francisco.
Yes, we have plenty of visitors, but every hotel executive winces with the latest twitch to the Pro Bowl's location or the negative news of another convention junket controversy.
And while Pearl Harbor now fluffs up nuclear submarines instead of dumping coal into battleships, our military-industrial base is not complex -- it is called U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.
The latest worry about Hawaii's economy comes from Gov. Linda Lingle, who says the elephant in the room is not tourism or the military, but land development.
Lingle looks at development and is not impressed. She casts a leery eye at real estate and dismisses it as "buying and selling -- quick transactions."
"If you have watched the economy here over the past five years, the numbers will show it is not agriculture, military and tourism, it is construction, land development and then tourism," Lingle said.
She doesn't like the proposed 3,000-room development looming at Turtle Bay on the North Shore and is equally displeased with plans for 4,500 more units at Poipu on Kauai.
"That land development tends to create wealth for a very few people," Lingle says, noting that a new life sciences laboratory to be built with state help next to the University of Hawaii medical center might create 1,000 jobs.
Taking a page from Thomas L. Friedman's "The World is Flat," Lingle says the Internet makes "Think Tank" Hawaii no longer an impossible goal.
"We always talk about it, but today the tools exist and there is no question that government can make it happen," Lingle says.
Who would expect a Republican governor banking on government to save an economy before it falters?