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State leaders seek boost in economy


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POSTED: Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hawaii's government and business leaders, along with non-profits, convened for a special planning session yesterday morning to talk about the state's looming economic challenges.

The Hawaii Economic Stabilization Initiative is the first of its kind, according to those involved — including the first time so many leaders have come together to talk about solutions for the ailing economy.

Among the initiatives the more than 50 top leaders came up with were a list of public capital improvement and infrastructure projects worth about $2 billion that could be implemented within 12 to 18 months.

This was disclosed at a press conference yesterday afternoon at the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, although the session itself was closed to the media.

Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said state, county and private sector leaders have assembled a list of projects that already have funds set aside for them. Some also could qualify for federal funding.

These projects, said Liu, are already in the pipeline with a budget, and do not require environmental impact statements, but are simply held up by something as simple as a permit.

They would include, for instance, fixing the leaky roof of a school, renovating hospitals, fixing bridges or improving roadways. They would include a mix of new construction and renovation projects.

The list is organized according to how soon they could get out of the box — with contracts signed, and notices to proceed. The goal, said Liu, was to double the pace.

The list, however, was not disclosed yesterday.

"We want to get the spade in the ground," said Jim Tollefson, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. "We want to get people working."

Some of the discussion during the session centered on how to expedite the permitting process, he said.

The silver lining to a down economy, said Liu, is that there is more competition among bidding contractors, as well as lower construction costs than in past years, when projects were booming.

Tollefson said such a high level of participation and collaboration has been unprecedented due to the urgency of the situation.

"These key stakeholders represent all sectors of the community and have the wherewithal to aggressively expedite an economic agenda to stimulate the economy," he said

William Kaneko, president and CEO of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, said this initiative was a community-based approach.

The first meeting by a small group of leaders took place on Nov. 7 as a brainstorming session on how to support the governor's Hawaii Economy Five-Point Plan.

It soon evolved to include leaders at the county level, in addition to business, labor and nonprofit executives.

Lisa Maruyama, president and CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, said yesterday that nonprofits are hurting in this down economy —some are on the brink of closing, some downsizing and some merging.

Yet the services provided by non-profits are needed more than ever during tough times.

Participants in yesterday's discussion included the governor, isle mayors, nonprofit leaders, labor leaders, such as Pacific Resource Partnership, the Department of Education and other state agencies.

Further sessions are scheduled for today, with more details to be released next week.

HESI is a public-private, joint-sector initiative of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, DBEDT, the Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii, HANO, and HIPA.

The leaders intend to present their findings to the broader community and public at large. A summit is also planned in January.

"I think we have the solutions," said Liu. "It's really a matter of implementation."