Lawmakers looking to diversify Hawaii’s economy away from tourism


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major hit to the tourism industry and businesses that rely on it. Now lawmakers are looking into other ways to bring in money to the state in the future, looking for ways to break away from relying solely on tourism. They say now is the perfect time to start.

“It’s only when we have situations that we are facing today where we really look at what the future should hold,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, Senate Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee chair.

Some of the proposals for alternative economic developments include expanding agriculture, which is something Hawaii is familiar with.

“We’ve talked about agriculture. We’ve talked about value added products and exporting, and those are the kind of jobs that we can get people moving quickly,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz who represents Wahiawa and Mililani Mauka.

But Wakai is proposing something a bit different. He’s looking into the future with aerospace technology, aquaculture and alternative energy.

“We import 70 percent of the fish we eat in Hawaii. That is a startling statistic. We should be a net exporter of fish, crustaceans, [and] ogo seaweed,” said Wakai

But these developments will take some time. Wakai estimates it could be about five to ten years of planning before we can reap the benefits.

“I don’t have the magic wand that by 2025 we’re going to have a robust [innovative] economy, but I’d like to try and move this discussion passed theoretical to, you know, on the ground, let’s move dirt. Let’s throw money at it. Let’s find great minds together to come up with reinventing the entire economy,” said Wakai.

For right now, he said they have to figure out how it would work and how much money and resources they’re willing to put in.

“It’s a push and pull. That means we’ll probably have worse roads, education might take a hit, healthcare…. we have a lot of things to weigh in government as to what our priorities are,” said Wakai.

Sen. Wakai, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, will be presenting their ideas for reopening the economy and moving forward in a webinar on Friday.

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