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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Identifying a vision for Hawai'i

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

You might want to call the folks involved in the Hawai'i Business Forum dreamers. Or maybe idealists. Or hopeless optimists.

But they like to think of themselves as "civic entrepreneurs," a loose coalition of business and government leaders, private companies and public agencies who simply believe in Hawai'i and its potential in the global economy.

Their biggest problem, they say, is that not enough of the rest of us share that belief or even fully recognize our potential.

A group of Business Forum backers rounded up by tireless business consultant Michael Herb came by The Advertiser the other day to talk about their dreams for Hawai'i and their frustration that our potential is so slowly being realized.

Art Richardson, a veteran of years in marketing and consulting and now lecturing at the College of Business Administration at the University of Hawai'i, described Hawai'i's problems as twofold.

With nods of agreement all around from his colleagues, Richardson said Hawai'i fails to recognize or appreciate the potential it already has to be a player in the global economy. And even when we do see opportunities, we have this subtle inferiority complex that holds us back, he suggested.

In short, we're not sure who we are and we're a little bit ashamed of it anyway.

That, said Richardson, is "Michener Days" thinking that has to be thrown out if we are to blossom as a real player in the world economy.

Sometimes, it takes a newcomer to see the opportunity that surrounds us, noted Mike Murphy, director of the U.S. Commerce Department's Export Assistance Center in Honolulu. Murphy has been here less than a year.

He is astounded at Hawai'i's resources in communication technology, our vast high-speed fiber optic network, our broad supply of people versed in the languages, cultures and thinking of Asia and in the technological expertise coming out of the University of Hawai'i. We simply do not recognize what we have, he said.

The Forum has been trying to sell Hawai'i's story by putting together programs that piggyback on other international meetings and gatherings that come to the Islands such as the Pacific Basin Economic Council and the Asia Development Bank gathering.

But this kind of salesmanship will only go so far, they believe, unless Hawai'i gets its own act together. What is needed, they said, is an encompassing vision of what Hawai'i is and could become and leadership that can articulate and pursue that vision.

And curiously for Hawai'i, they are not looking particularly to politics for that leadership. Politics, they suggested, has become more a process of divide and conquer than of unifying and leading.

That poses an interesting scenario as we head into next year's climactic 2002 elections. If it's true there is a bright new 21st Century role for Hawai'i just waiting to be identified and then sold ( both to ourselves and the world), then someone has a golden opportunity ahead of them.

Yes, leadership vacuums don't have to be filled by politicians. But if the right politician captures the right vision, and finds a way to drive it past our lingering insecurities, the state is theirs for the taking.