HAWAII today stands in high technology where Taiwan stood 30 years ago, a speaker recently told the Hawaii Society of Corporate Planners. That was close to zilch, however. Shoes then were Taiwan's big export.
High tech has
flourished in Taiwan
Today Taiwan's top exports are personal computers and the things that go with them. It provides more than half the world's supply.
Thanks to high-tech prosperity, more than 80 percent of Taiwanese own their own homes, over 50 percent have family cars and 100 percent have color TVs. I have no comparable figures for the People's Republic of China, but they are nowhere close.
The PRC, however, gets a lot of Taiwanese investment. It manufactures one-third of Taiwan's technology products through round-about investment techniques that the PRC blinks at despite its hostility to Taiwan.
A couple of recent speakers have dazzled local audiences with tales of what Taiwan has achieved.
Taiwan-born Rosita P. Chang is a professor of finance at the University of Hawaii. She directs its Asia-Pacific Financial Markets Research Center. Chang tossed all sorts of awesome growth graphs at a China Seminar lunch.
An example: This island of 20-plus million people grew its gross domestic product by 10 fold in the 20 years from 1977 to 1997, when it reached $283.6 billion. Its pace continues.
Taiwan resident Matthew Miau diagrammed at a corporate planner lunch how his MITAC-SYNNEX Group -- with skillful use of e-commerce -- has become the largest information technology distribution and order fulfillment company in Asia. The group also is the third largest electronics distributor in the United States. Its worldwide sales ballooned from less than $1 billion in 1993 to $9 billion last year.
Miau was introduced by an old family friend, Taiwan-born Rose Y. Tseng, chancellor of the University of Hawaii-Hilo. She has been a sparkplug for that campus.
To be truthful, much of what Miau said and explained was over the head of this Stone Age listener -- but business whizzes were wowed at his mastery of the knowledge industry.
I did understand his size-up of how to tell whether your business is growing too fast, too slow or just right.
If you have a high sales volume and low profit, you are growing too fast.
If inventory is low and cash on hand is great, you are growing too slowly. In between is the place to be. For the MITAC-SYNNEX Group, that's in the neighborhood of 25 percent growth each year.
A competent, understanding government is needed, Miau said, to foster such growth.
That's something not always present in Hawaii. Our state Legislature seems far more able to slow things down than speed them up. It often plays a hands-on game with private enterprise rather than a stimulative hands-off game in which it sets the rules and then stands back.
A case in point is before us right now. After at last creating a Hawaii Tourism Authority with assured long-term funding to free our biggest industry from annual legislative meddling, there is talk in this session of clipping HTA's wings.
No such meddlesome government is likely to see high-tech growth in Hawaii come close to matching Taiwan.
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.