View Point

By Mufi Hannemann

Friday, June 6, 1997

Business as usual just
isn’t good enough anymore

With private-sector advice,
city economic/tourism office
hopes to boost business

Oahu desperately needs an economic call to action. Our unemployed exceed 20,000, more than the rest of the state combined. Oahu has the distinction of ranking fourth in the nation in the percentage of jobs lost. We have the third highest per capita cost-of-living in the United States. The competitiveness of major industries -- tourism, sugar, defense -- is no longer assured.

Mindful of this sorry state, Oahu's business, labor, academic and community leaders decided to get together in 1995 to find ways to stimulate the economy and private-sector job growth.

At about the same time, the City Council's Committee on Economic Development, Planning and Tourism called for the development of an action plan to bolster our economy and create new job opportunities.

The Oahu Economic Development Board, a private-sector, nonprofit agency, was contracted to come up with the plan.

Thirty OEDB members contributed to the plan during 1996, also drawing on the ideas of the Hawaii Society of Corporate Planners, University of Hawaii, Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, Hawaii Business Roundtable, Pacific Resource Partnership and representatives of county government.

Invaluable input came by way of Doug Henton, a nationally recognized economic development facilitator, who validated and endorsed this type of all-inclusive process as critical to a successful economic revitalization effort. Oahu's first Economic Action Plan was accepted by the City Council in January of this year.

The Oahu Economic Action Plan identified five industry groups or "clusters" that hold the most promise: the visitor industry, defense, technology, health care, and education and training.

From here, the next step is to develop specific business plans, through a community-based process, that will make these targeted industry groups globally competitive. Cluster business plans are driven by the private sector to develop common priorities, translate them into initiatives, secure resources to implement them and press for measurable outcomes.

The role of government in this model is a new one for Oahu. In the past, the city has been content to sit back and permit the state government to drive economic development decisions on its behalf.

In this instance, the city and state will not necessarily lead. Rather, they will partner with the private sector to reflect a team approach toward the implementation of the plan.

To ensure that the city will be an effective partner in this new paradigm, the Harris administration and the City Council are working together to consolidate and buttress economic development functions.

The plan is for the newly named Office of Economic Development and Tourism to be attached to the mayor's office with substantive funding and support. An appointed committee of private- and public-sector representatives known as the Honolulu Economic Council will serve as an advisory body to OEDT.

During the past year alone, the action plan has shown results: A health-care cluster consortium was selected as a finalist for a federal export grant. The visitor industry cluster supported key city bills to revitalize Waikiki and Mayor Jeremy Harris' public-safety initiatives. The technology cluster partnered with counterparts from Maui, the Big Island and Kauai on a GTE/Hawaiian Tel-sponsored marketing program with the High Technology Development Corp.

Incidentally, this is Hawaii's first private-sector funded technology marketing program and includes one of the most effective videos on our assets, collateral material and a web site for all islands. It debuted before an audience of 1,500 executives from Asia-Pacific telecommunications companies this year. The video alone generated more than 50 solid leads for Hawaii firms at its first showing and has been instrumental in other attraction efforts.

Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local." I would argue that all economic development begins with a local focus.

O'Neill revealed the real nature of how people get elected. And local private-sector initiatives are the real ways that jobs are created.

Businesses and unions are the starting points for job creation. Then, around these starting points, the most successful states and cities build community, academic and government support.

We're seeing it done on Maui with the super computer at the technology park and more recently the relocation of the Hula Bowl to the Valley Isle. We're also seeing it done on the Big Island with diversified agriculture, astronomy and ocean resources. There's no reason Oahu can't do more to enhance its economic fortunes.

Mufi Hannemann is a member of the Honolulu
City Council. The opinions in View Point columns are
the authors' and are not necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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