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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Simple vision: Diversify economy

Bill Spencer is the president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association but is presenting only his own thoughts here.
By Bill Spencer

My vision for Hawai'i depends on one simple concept from which will flow the resources needed to solve a number of social ills that simply cannot be addressed by the zero-sum game that we have been playing for so many years.

We must focus on diversifying the economy so that we are not primarily dependent on tourism. In the simplest terms, a diversified economy means that Hawai'i is exporting more goods and services and importing less.

A strong diversified economy means higher tax revenues. This is not to be confused with more taxes. If we double our gross state product, we double our tax base. With more revenues the state can go about the business of improving our schools, building a world-class university system, improving transportation and protecting our precious environment.

We can reduce the cost of living, improve job opportunities for our youth, minimize the need for people to work two or three jobs to make ends meet and improve healthcare and long-term care.

To accomplish this vision, we have to invest in ourselves, support entrepreneurship, nurture and use local companies to help them grow, market our export-focused companies to the global marketplace, buy more local goods and services, and provide training and education opportunities to displaced and underutilized workers.

We also need to respect the 'aina and respect each other. This is so much more than fixing our dilapidated parks and tourism infrastructure.

It means treating Hawai'i as if it were the Switzerland of the Pacific. (Switzerland has the second highest, behind Kuwait, per capita gross domestic product of any country in the world.) For those who have never been to Switzerland, this tiny land-locked country's citizens provide meticulous care for every square inch of their land. There is not a blade of grass out of place. No one would even think of tossing a cigarette butt on the ground, much less a bag full of empty hamburger wrappers.

Yes, we will have failures along the way and it will not be easy, but we cannot afford to put it off any longer.