Education, technical aid
needed for Kauai to grow,
economist says

POIPU, Kauai >> Despite surges in construction and real estate sales, and a booming summer for tourism on Kauai, the Garden Island needs to focus on education and technical training if its economy is to diversify and grow, economist Leroy Laney said here last night. 

"Leaders in tourism, agriculture, high-tech, government and other areas all cite a need for better technically trained graduates," said Leroy Laney, an economics and finance professor at Hawaii Pacific University. Laney presented First Hawaiian Bank's annual business outlook in a speech at the Kauai Sheraton Resort.

"As more younger, well-educated professionals come to live and work (on Kauai), they will demand quality education for their children, perhaps by expanding private if not public education," Laney said.

Beth Tokioka, the county's new Office of Economic Development director said she agrees completely.

The best time to work toward diversifying the island's economy is when the island's primary industry, tourism, is doing well, she said.

"There is more discussion about diversifying the economy when the tourism industry is doing poorly," Tokioka said. "But the fact is the current good health of tourism gives us some breathing room and an opportunity to move ahead. This is not the time to just sit back, it's an opportunity to bring in new industries and new ways to grow the economy."

Tokioka said Mayor Bryan Baptiste has had a broad-based committee working on the problems of both higher education and skilled technical training at work since May. The panel's proposals are expected to be released later this year.

The county is looking both at providing jobs for Kauai youngsters who want to return home after receiving a university education and greatly enhanced training programs for those who want to learn technical skills while remaining on Kauai, Tokioka said.

Much of Laney's discussion on the health of Kauai's economy centered on tourism.

Kauai's heavy reliance on time-shares -- 37 percent of the state's time-shares are on Kauai -- helped immunize the island from the effects of 9/11 because people who already had paid for their vacations took them, he noted. And, Kauai is not as reliant on Asian tourism as other islands, he noted, which helped cushion the downturn in Japanese travel.

Low interest rates have helped fuel both construction and real estate sales. New construction helped Kauai's job growth jump by 4 percent in the first half of 2003, compared to an average of only 2.5 percent for all of Hawaii, he said.

The down side of the booming housing market -- which has been primarily sales of upscale homes to wealthy buyers -- has been a soaring cost of housing that threatens to crowd middle income buyers out of the market, Laney cautioned.

In the high-tech area, the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the west tip of Kauai remains a major lure for permanent employment with defense contractors.

At the same time, the base also fuels the tourism industry. Every time the Navy tests a missile on Kauai, it draws about 300 engineers and technicians who spend about $3 million while on the island, Laney said.


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