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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

We need some tech staying power


By Jay Fidell

Venture capitalist Jeff Au recently did a video on ThinkTech. He recalled the sad story of 221 in the Lingle years. See ThinkTechHawaii.com for the video. From him, it sounds like we've lost our way in those years.

Calls to Action have recently been circulated reporting that SB 2401 and SB 2001 might be passed. If SB 2401 is passed, investors won't be able to claim remnant 221 credits until 2013. If SB 2001 passes, 221 will be repealed May 1 even though it doesn't expire until Dec. 31. Have we forgotten the promises that 221 would be permitted to run its course?

SCR 173 is an effort to remind the Legislature that it will have to fund the Energy Administrator office at DBEDT when the temporary federal funds being used for that purpose will expire. Have we forgotten the promise of the Clean Energy Initiative that was so important to everyone in 2008?

After the sound bites, we've had a short attention span for information technology, life sciences, innovation economy and even clean energy, losing interest in each in turn. We fail to insist on what was promised, dooming ourselves to an eternal repetition worthy of Sisyphus himself.

PETITE MADELEINE

In "Remembrance of Things Past," Marcel Proust, a French writer in the 19th century, found that certain experiences (tasting a French breakfast roll called a Petite Madeleine) let him drill down into the details of his past. We should use similar mnemonics to remember what we hoped to do before. Dopamine drugs are not necessary; common sense will do.

Working at it, perhaps we could recapture JABSOM II and Ed Cadman's medical research campus at Kaka'ako, with KS's Asia Pacific Innovation Center and the Bio-Safety Laboratory and the Cancer Research Center that were planned there. We should press for completion on every one.

The biggest lapse of all is that we forgot the need for planned economic diversification. It was visionary before the Lingle years, but has died a slow twisting death since then. We've forgotten the hope that it offered and frankly we've frittered away the first decade of the new century.

RELENTLESS CHANGE

Like it or not, our state economy is always changing. Some sectors get stronger and others get weaker, sometimes without rhyme, reason or economic benefit. An unplanned economy evolves at random and leads to risky prospects for the future. In the 21st century, we can do better.

Some say the Legislature has become a separate industry, occupying nearly everyone for five months a year. And state government is really our largest sector, with more workers than we can afford, regulating us more than any free society can endure. Adding to that a burgeoning activist industry, where a handful of people can stop nearly anything, gives us "Hawai'i, the state that says no." Wall Street is not unaware.

We've all but forgotten that a high-tech industry does R&D, creates IP, hires Ph.D.s, then licenses or exports its IP and products for big bucks. Although it requires capital, this growth can be logarithmic and return huge profits. Ignoring that, we've fixed on a tourism land-based mono-economy under the uninspiring rubric of "just do what you're best at," which roughly translated means "good citizens stick with hospitality."

Thus uninspired, Hawai'i is defining itself as a minimum-wage state with a declining tax base that still wants to be invidiously affluent but can't come close to making ends meet. It's not a pretty picture.

FIRST, A DREAM

ThinkTech will deal with these disparities in its "Recovery 101 Serious Solutions for a Troubled Economy" panel program Aug. 25.

The lack of support the tech community has had from government has in some ways made it stronger. The bond between tech and business filled the room at Oceanit's 25th anniversary party April 2. We need more companies like Oceanit, and we need more celebrations like that one.

Jim Kelly wrote a nice piece about roadmaps in last week's paper, and yes we'll need a fresh roadmap to get where we should be going. We'll need candidates who dream in tech, and we'll need to remember their dreams and promises, especially in election years.

Let's not forget the exuberance we had about diversification before the Lingle administration threw cold water on it. Let's support today's kids and make them great entrepreneurs. Let's invest everything we have and adopt all the incentives we can to show them how essential they are.

After a walk down memory lane, let's refresh our enthusiasm for a better future, starting right now, or at least sometime before the election. Only candidates who favor tech and have good memories need apply.

Jay Fidell is a business lawyer practicing in Honolulu. He has followed tech and tech policy closely and is a founder of ThinkTech Hawaii. Check out his blog at www.HonoluluAdvertiser.com/Blogs