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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Serious high-tech investors are looking for straight answers

By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Hawai'i technology on public radio
Hear The Advertiser's John Duchemin and the latest Hawai'i technology news every Wednesday on Think Tech Hawai'i, 5 to 6 p.m. on Hawai'i Public Radio KIPO FM 89.3, with hosts Jay Fidell and Gordon Bruce.

TOMORROW: Holiday programming. Think Tech Hawai'i returns to the air Jan. 9.

In their efforts to portray Hawai'i as a place for anything except tourism and real estate, economic development advocates have not only been hampered by the average American business person's skepticism toward the idea, but also by an inability to provide an effective response to such skepticism.

The state's main business development campaigns have tended toward vague expression instead of honing in on specific reasons a business should come here.

This approach has been galling to many proponents of the high-tech industry, who regularly ask venture capitalists, potential clients and prospective employees to cross thousands of miles and multiple time zones to invest in, buy from and work for them — instead of their more accessible competitors in Boston or Berkeley.

High-tech supporters have long begged for a marketing program that definitively answers, "Why Hawai'i?"

The state's latest major effort — a special section in the December editions of glossy magazines California CEO and Washington CEO — reveals a long way is left to go to address this issue.

On one level, there is no denying that the "Hawai'i: Ventures in Paradise" section is an impressive public relations coup.

In exchange for a few pages of advertising by O'ahu economic development group Enterprise Honolulu, the magazines' publisher, Fivash Media Group, printed 32 pages dedicated to Hawai'i business, including an introductory letter by Gov. Linda Lingle on how the state is "Open for Business," and editorials by Enterprise Honolulu and University of Hawai'i officials.

It included a Q&A, organized by Enterprise Honolulu, with dozens of local executives that occupied 11 pages of the section.

According to Fivash Media Group, the section will be seen by more than 100,000 West Coast corporate executives — not a bad target audience.

Still, there was little detailed, helpful information for these high-level readers. Actual economic development engines, such as the high-tech tax incentives known as Act 221, or the planned University of Hawai'i medical school in Kaka'ako, are only briefly sketched out. Much of the space is devoted to dozens of examples of people, places and businesses confirming how great Hawai'i is for business.

Little is done to mention precisely how the state's assets and economic development tools differ from those of the other 49 states in the Union which, in these uncertain economic times, are also clamoring for emigrating businesses.

A more akamai approach might have been to offer specifics such as, "Here is the University of Hawai'i's new medical school and research center; here is the private land next to it that's committed for construction of lab facilities; here are its benefits, compared with 10 similar centers on the Mainland; and here are the knowledgeable officials you can call to learn more," and to repeat the process for Act 221 and anything else worth mentioning.

These are the facts that many Mainland executives lack, and which have precluded many from viewing Hawai'i in a serious light. Without such details, it's unlikely that such misconceptions will ever be reversed.

Reach John Duchemin by e-mail at jduchemin@honoluluadvertiser.com or by phone at 525-8062.