LIHU‘E — A digitally-driven and connected “Hawai‘i 2.0” is the crux of Gov. David Ige’s latest campaign in diversifying the state’s economy.
“Clearly, the pandemic has highlighted the digital inequity in Hawai‘i,” Ige said during his 2021 State of the State address. “Part of our task is to make sure that a student in Nanakuli can access an online lesson plan as easily as a student in Kahala, and that, in a digital Hawai‘i, everyone’s connected.”
In Lihu‘e Monday, members of the Kuleana Share Workspace at Kukui Grove Center were plugged in.
The workspace opened at Kukui Grove Center three months ago, after being hosted at Ha Coffee Bar on Rice Street.
“Kuleana offers space renters everything from a strong internet signal, extra monitors, and a comfortable workspace,” Jenyffer Vieira, space coordinator, said. “I work with video and other digital media so having dependable signals is crucial to my work.”
Jennifer Jones-Patulli, principal of Productive Conflict, LLC, has been renting for about a month due to a spotty connection at home.
“Digital connection is key to my business. I used to get dropped signals, and slowdowns — especially in the afternoons when kids got out of school — at my home in Lihu‘e,” Jones-Patulli said. “I can’t afford to drop signals because of the video calls from the Mainland, and following my renting space from Kuleana, I was even able to host a Zoom meeting using their boardroom.”
Ige called the push for driving technology as a “multi-pronged” approach to not limit the economy that has faced crushing devastation.
“In the 1970s, agriculture by itself couldn’t relieve us of our addiction to tourism,” Ige said. “Neither will technology in the 21st century, not by itself. But, it can be used to support a multi-pronged approach toward greater diversification, even as we move to get tourism back on its feet.”
A plan, including Ige’s administration, Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki and business and community leaders are developing “a plan of action for Hawai‘i’s future.”
Ige has also reached out to the Hawai‘i Business Roundtable, the Hawai‘i Executive Conference, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation to bring together stakeholders and communities across the island chain. The plan is to get recommendations by April and fold them into third-quarter state plans.
Using a Federal Communications Commission grant, the state is working on a telehealth initiative to connect low-income patients with high medical risks to healthcare providers.
Ige’s legislative package also includes a bill to create a Broadband and Digital Equity Office to oversee these efforts, and hopefully identify and secure $7 billion in federal funds for broadband infrastructure and digital equity programs, he said.
“We need to develop a clear vision for a more diversified and sustainable economy that is compatible with our culture and way of life. And that vision must be based on solid economic analyses,” Ige said.
Ed Sniffen, the state Department of Transportation’s deputy director of highways, is facilitating a pilot project to connect rural communities to broadband service, including Kapa‘a. The project will also focus on Puna, Ka‘u, Hana, Nanakuli, Wai‘anae, Waimanalo and Kalihi.
More than 580,500 residents have filed unemployment claims last year, which forced the state to borrow.
Ige said the state plans to pay for interest payments on $700 million for the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The state is looking at borrowing around $600 million in the future.
“This amounts to over $165 million (in interest payments) that our businesses would otherwise have to make up over the next six years,” Ige said.
Post-State of the State, Ige said there will not be “broad tax increases” to balance the budget, which he said is not necessary at this time. A sugar tax and misdemeanor fine system are expected to be introduced.
Part of the financial plan moving forward saw $402 million reductions in budget, taking $345 million from the state’s rainy day fund and eliminating and reducing state departments and agencies.
“Unlike past years, our main budget initiative will be to find ways to cover the historic shortfalls,” Ige said.
Late last year, Ige announced state furloughs, but with federal assistance, has now been pushed to July.
State revenues will not fully recover until 2024, according to the state’s Council on Revenues, which also expects to generate nearly $6.3 billion in tax revenues for this fiscal year.
“That’s why we were able to adjust the DOE’s (Department of Education’s) proposed reductions and now have about $123 million to restore to our classrooms,” Ige said. “In a sea of bad news, that is good news indeed.”
The state plans to see $1.1 billion in state capital improvement projects, matched by another $1.1 billion in federal transportation projects. The private sector, Ige said, would bring in another $10 billion and “thousands of jobs to help restart our economy.”