Hawaii is still struggling in a new world of limited options.
Hawaii leaders used to explain Hawaii in terms of a four-legged economic chair.
One leg was sugar and pineapple: The powerful plantation economy grew the money, provided the jobs and helped form the cultural identification for many. Then sugar and pine whithered and died.
Another leg was construction. Hawaii was a new state and was about building itself. Condominiums, hotels, freeways, schools and hospitals all had to be built. The joke was that the climbing crane was the state bird. Today our construction economy is so tepid contractors last week were forced to halt work on city bus pads because of a concrete shortage.
Military has always been another leg of the economic chair. With reports putting 18 percent of the local economy linked to military spending, it is still a strong and sure part of the deal.
The final leg that still exists is tourism.
There is no more four-legged table, there is no three-legged stool. Today, Hawaii has two legs and there is much worry about if it can run.
In a speech last week to the Hawaii Economic Association, Richard Lim, state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism director, said tourism has generally remained stagnant for the past two decades and can no longer be relied on to move the economy into a prosperous future.
Lim said renewable energy and high-tech companies will have to be part of the new Hawaii economy.
It may be a bit soon to throw under the bus an industry that puts $1 billion a month in the local economy. Mike McCartney, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, came to tourism’s defense, saying that it has changed over the years.
Tourism now includes a growing convention and meeting market, and time-shares are going great and expected to be a strong part of the industry, McCartney says.
Because the tourism business puts so much into the economy, employing 150,000 residents and adding so much to the tax base, it is not just another business with benefits to call on when you need some bucks.
"Tourism, more than we know, is providing the opportunities we enjoy through government. We have to embrace and nurture it," McCartney says.
McCartney’s tourism buddies may want to check their back when it comes to the Abercrombie administration. The new Democratic governor came into office on a campaign where he ran against candidates supported by almost all the major tourism executives. In his opening State of the State address, Abercrombie called for reallocating up to $10 million from McCartney’s HTA.
"The amount of money we spend in the name of marketing Hawaii has grown disproportionate to the amount we need to spend on Hawaii’s own infrastructure," Abercrombie said.
Others in the tourism industry have privately said they worry if Abercrombie really supports tourism.
McCartney, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party who also served in the state Legislature and in former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano’s administration, says he is not worried.
"He told me whatever business loves and wants to support Hawaii, he will also support them," McCartney said of Abercrombie.
"I believe there are many people in the tourism industry who will support that," McCartney said.
Let’s hope so.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at email@example.com.