Agriculture, energy may hold the key to a self-sustaining Hawaii economy

The massive economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic is renewing calls to diversify Hawaii's economy.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The scenes of desperate residents waiting in their cars for hours in free food distribution lines are a reminder of Hawaii’s dependence on the tourism industry.

“What this COVID-19 (crisis) has done is really made us realize the importance of a well-rounded diversified economy," Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said last week.

Tourism, which has fueled Hawaii’s decade-long economic boom, collapsed virtually overnight after the state went on lock down six weeks ago. Some economists don’t expect it to fully recover for several years.

Some hope that industries such as home-grown high tech and the renewable energy can help bridge the gap while tourism recovers. Others see potential in diversified agriculture.

To be sure, Hawaii for the past three decades has looked to diversity its economy -- with limited results.

Past efforts to attract high-tech manufacturers and telecommunications companies have largely fizzled due to high land costs, lack of capital and the relative isolation from the companies’ supply chains and banking sources.

House Speaker Scott Saiki hopes the state takes a different approach during this downturn.

Instead of trying to woo big companies with lucrative incentives, he thinks Hawaii could benefit by improving its technology infrastructure and business climate.

“What we’ve seen in this pandemic is that the state is lacking in terms of technological infrastructure and you see it very apparently in the public education system where students are having a hard time with distance learning," he said.

Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator, believes companies geared toward energy independence and food security should play a major role in the new economy.

“I think we should be focused on what is local," she said.

"So that means local food, local energy, accelerating the phase out of fossil fuels and investing in local agricultural production.”

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.