Both President Barack Obama on his current travels in Asia and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her recently completed trip (including her speech in Hawaii) have stressed the importance of Asia and of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping to America's economic future. No place is this more applicable than to Hawaii; but Hawaii needs to act -- in a coordinated and sustained manner -- to realize the potential benefits. For too long we have considered ourselves too small or too tourismdominated to be relevant to the larger picture. No more.
This may disappoint some in the visitors industry, but "aloha" is not enough to sell Hawaii to the Asia business community that will gather in Honolulu during the APEC meetings in November 2011. Certainly sun, sand and sea remain attractions, but the tough entrepreneurs who are making Asia the center of the world economy in the 21st century can find that combination at a couple of dozen locations around the world.
These dynamic people are not driven by a desire for "aloha"; they are driven to take advantage of every opportunity they can find to expand their reach in this increasingly global century. They are looking for opportunities that could provide the next big leap in their personal and national fortunes. If Hawaii is to impress this group -- hundreds of whom will be convening in Honolulu before and during the APEC gathering -- we need to catch their imagination with exciting real-world examples of what Hawaii has to offer. And we do have a lot to offer: location, innovation, resources and infrastructure to help them make things happen by working together with our best and most energetic entrepreneurs to bring new ideas to the market.
But how do we do this? It is actually not that difficult. Hawaii has a whole range of ideas to offer innovative visitors, on top of the pleasant atmospherics and distractions to balance the serious business with more informal ways of building personal relationships.
What follows is a brief list of some of what Hawaii has to offer today -- and there are many more. The challenge presented by the APEC meetings is to showcase them in a way that catches the eye of the visitors and puts them together with the key figures here in these fields:
» Honolulu has many high-technology enterprises in operation or development. Renewable energy is an obvious one, but there are others such as a new technique of distance monitoring of patients, which can have incalculable value for countries like Indonesia with vast distances and inadequate medical resources.
» Two-way tourism: Wealthy Asians from many countries now visit modern, attractive facilities in a variety of exotic locations in the region. This brings opportunities in several areas where Hawaii has unique resources and experience, including architecture, marketing and group tour organizing. We can also add to our current offerings of facilities and experiences (including more languages) congenial to the new market of Asians capable of pursuing what once were only dreams of international travel.
» Education: One example among many is the University of Hawaii's English language training program for otherwise qualified Asians who can't meet the level of English to qualify for a student visa. This can be a model for a much broader and extended program for Indonesians and others.
» Security: Demonstrations of technology and techniques for countering the new terrorism threats -- already undergoing trial runs in areas such as dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices -- could bring senior security specialists and officers from all over the region to conferences here.
» Agriculture: A wide variety of unique Asian Indonesian produce grows well in Hawaii and would fit in with the new emphasis on "niche" agriculture. Despite regulatory obstacles, there is an opportunity to build a market both here and on the mainland. Think "kiwi fruit."
» Furniture manufacturing: This already active field can be expanded, including manufacturing designs especially aimed for the Hawaii and mainland markets (e.g., rattan furniture for smaller apartment balconies), and applying more modern technology to traditional handcrafted products.
» Environmental protection and ecology: One only has to mention the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the research being conducted by the University of Hawaii Oceanography Department on El Nino, and the multifaceted research and development work on the recently designated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument to know how much Hawaii has to offer to the region in the field. Another stunning example is the transformation of the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve from a deteriorating dump to an award-winning pioneer of educationbased reef tourism that even today attracts a constant flow of foreign dignitaries and professionals who want to visit this wonder and find out how we did it.
The next step: Convene the stakeholders. One way to kick-start this process would be to convene an early meeting of interested parties to assemble a list of promising ideas. From this could be chosen 10 or 12 "flagship" concepts that could be given prominent play during the APEC meetings. Local leaders of these initiatives and potential partners from the region could be brought together for more detailed discussions.
Any such proposal raises proprietary and other issues, but to quote the classic challenge: If not now, when? If not us, who? This is Hawaii's moment, let's go for it!