Having weathered the storm, Hawaii’s future holds great potential

The passage of Tropical Storm Flossie — thankfully less severe than initially projected — was a reminder that we are stronger when we work together. It was another test of our ability to work across county, state and federal lines with community partners in the interest of the safety and well-being of the people of Hawaii. I was reassured by the coordinated effort and grateful to members of the community who took appropriate precautions for their own safety.

There have been several other recent examples of effective collaboration within our state that have allowed us to weather the economic storm of the “Great Recession.”

Last week on Aug. 7, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) announced projections for positive growth in all major industries and broad occupational groups in Hawaii. State employment is forecasted to expand by 4 percent, or 26,690 jobs, from third quarter 2012 to third quarter 2014. While tourism will continue to be a major part of Hawaii’s “economic revival,” expansion in the construction industry at 6.4 percent annually will lead all industries over the two-year forecast period. Service occupations will likewise demonstrate significant growth, expanding by 4.2 percent, adding 7,480 new jobs during this period.

Upon taking office in 2010, my objectives were to balance the state’s budget by exercising sound financial management, rebuild our financial reserves, and deal with long-term unfunded liabilities. We have made hard decisions to weather the national and international economic crisis and have succeeded in putting Hawaii on the right path to better financial security.

On July 23, in a news release titled “Hawaii Moves to Tame Its OPEB Liability,” Standard and Poor’s (S&P) Rating Service acknowledged our state’s actions to shore up Hawaii’s financial standing, which S&P expects to further strengthen our fiscal position in both near and long terms. This favorable third-party assessment highlights Hawaii as a leader amongst states in dealing with our financial health.

Recent national events illustrate how significant it is that our movement to deal with long-term liabilities is setting us apart from other jurisdictions.

Our progress has not been limited to the economy. On July 29, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter informing me that our state’s Race to the Top grant is in good standing and no longer considered “high-risk.” He further acknowledged the major progress Hawaii continues to make.

The commitment made by our state Department of Education (DOE) to get to where we are today speaks for itself, and this recognition validates the good work being done by Hawaii’s teachers, educational leaders and our partners for island students. It is clear that transformation in our education system is taking place at all levels, and this includes our efforts to invest in the youngest members of our society.

In the area of early education and development, our plans at the state level align with President Barack Obama’s vision to make preschool accessible for all four-year-olds in America. Last month in a speech at Knox College in Illinois, President Obama stated that an education preparing the nation’s children and workers for global competition is a cornerstone of a strong middle class. The president also reaffirmed his commitment to spur innovation in schools to teach the skills required for a high-tech economy.

Education is top priority for my administration. As I mentioned in last month’s column, I recently signed into law Senate Bill 1093 (Act 169), the “School Readiness Bill.” The measure was a key component of my legislative package and is a significant first step. This is the first time that the state is codifying into law our commitment to prepare young children for success in school. Initially, it will help pay for about 1,000 children to attend preschool in 2014.

In addition, the state DOE has selected eight schools for its Common Core Digital Curriculum Pilot Project in the upcoming 2013–14 school year. The initiative will support the schools’ implementation of new digital curricula, incorporating a digital device for every student and teacher — which I first proposed in my 2012 State of the State address.

Our ability to work with aloha proves to be one of our most valuable assets as we continue to improve the local economy and transform our education system.

I thank the Kauai community for its kokua and partnership.

• Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s guest column runs monthly.

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