As an owner of a business services firm that works with thousands of business across the state in virtually every industry, I am often asked what I think the future holds for growth in Hawaii. And by growth I mean new revenue that is free and clear of state and federal subsidization. Here is my take.
With the honorable Senator Inouye’s recent passing, our state is on the brink of a seminal change. Close to $500M of earmarked funds will evaporate as we send two freshman Senators to Washington. These are high value dollars and their void will force a discussion on how to fill it. Taxes would be the first and most obvious proposed solution, but that solution is already strained to the breaking point to fund rail and a myriad of other budget shortfalls.
However there is a silver lining here. I believe the government will now be willing to seriously consider ideas that might have once been dismissed as maverick. No, I am not suggesting gambling!
I recently heard a fascinating talk by a very sage Hawaii businessman, who agrees that one only has to look at demographics to find Hawaii’s solution. It lies in health care. Asia, much like the US, faces a rapidly graying population that wants quality health care. While countless facilities are being built throughout Asia to accommodate the growing middle classes’ demand for quality health care alternatives, they will invariably pale in scope and expertise to what can be accommodated in the US.
Insert post-APEC Hawaii, perfectly positioned, beautifully landscaped, open for business.
We have abundant land, we have a globally acceptable transportation infrastructure to travel here and we have a large and growing population suited for health care staff and support. And let us not forget that the entire Asian continent has a growing love affair with Hawaii—a destination perceived as a health-giving paradise—that is actually sustaining us through this great recession.
So let’s imagine a Microsoft campus sized health care facility right here in our islands. Where red dirt and pineapple fields once stretched, we can have lush, beautiful acreage teeming with 3,000+ doctors, practitioners and nursing staff, serving a Pan-Asian community of high net worth patients. An idea like this is not simply re-development of an urban zone such as Kakaako or Waikiki (which is good for restarting our economy and will afford us some much needed new construction dollars). Rather, it is the definition of a wholly new globally attractive industry that we can actually do well. Something ACT 221 simply did not do.
There is no reason Hawaii can’t follow in the footsteps of, say, the luminaries of Rochester, MN who envisioned the Mayo Clinic, or those of Houston, TX when they created MD Anderson. Well-known brands today, their beginnings lie in local, obscured economies looking to develop a new, profitable and sustainable industry.
What is different here in Hawaii is that historically we have lacked a clear path from big ideas to development. An idea like this can and will attract quality investment dollars if those investors believe the state won’t interfere, or impinge on the profitability of the venture. Now, the $500M annual budget gap is a potential wedge for real dialogue. We will be forced to think big, and then act on it.
Ideas like turning Hawaii into a global health Mecca are fresh and doable. I am hopeful that in this unique time of economic crisis, a real dialogue can emerge with carte blanche for the business community to truly re-envision Hawaii.