Safely rebuilding our economy our way


As a tight-knit community, we have seen our fair share of challenging times, but we always pull together and find ways to support one another.

It’s an unwritten reciprocal social agreement woven deep into the fabric of Hawaii’s culture to look out for each other, take care of our kupuna, protect our friends and neighbors and share with those in need.

Most, if not all, residents of our local population have experienced the severe impacts of tourism or lack thereof.

Our current reality has required us to take a hard look at our dependence on tourism as our primary economic driver and, more recently, what that relationship will look like moving forward.

Economic diversification is ever-present on the lips of county lawmakers and administrators. The political and societal will is clear and a unified commitment has been reached.

Significant financial investments have already been made to help diversify our economy with industries, such as agriculture, technology and film. This is a progressive strategy to reduce our overreliance on extractive tourism and mitigate economic uncertainty through a diversified path toward resiliency.

Self-reflection and consideration about our future have arisen individually in our homes and collectively as a community.

In an economic climate like this, it is easier to visualize the dire need for self-reliance and local job opportunities to ensure employment consistency in a rich and productive circular economy. The ability to thrive without dependence upon outside resources or continental business ventures, which are often impacted by external market factors that fluctuate erratically, is imperative.

Maui County is an innovative and artistic community, brimming with entrepreneurism, resourcefulness, brilliance and philanthropy.

Access to local services and products are already increasing since awareness of buying local has taken precedent in supporting our neighbors and community during these difficult times.

We now have an opportunity to embolden that same inventiveness and plan for an economic future that benefits Maui County residents and puts our local businesses and community first.

Maui County is a popular location for corporate getaways and for visiting trades, such as the film industry. However, rarely do we fully capitalize on the ripe opportunity this presents us. Most of the economic benefits are limited to employment and a trickle of support to local businesses, but the lion’s share is often absorbed by hotels owned by offshore investors and by big box stores.

As chair of the Economic Development and Budget Committee, I feel it is incumbent upon us to outline what we want as a community — and what we will not accept. With a unified consensus, we can institutionalize a plan to attract businesses that align with our vision.

For example, formal agreements should be standardized with large visiting groups and hotels to mandate a priority in hiring and purchasing local while visiting our county.

Local agriculture should be center stage for every meal served and every lei should be made by our own lei makers with plants grown in Maui County.

Locally made products like sunscreen, clothing and jewelry should be used and promoted for retail in hotels and resorts.

Likewise, small businesses that rent beach equipment, such as boogie boards and snorkel gear, should be used to reduce waste that unnecessarily inundates our landfills with buy-and-throw-away products purchased while visiting.

A public-review process should be required detailing the return on investment for our community, highlighting a commitment to utilize local labor, services and products.

Records of this review should be managed by the Office of Economic Development to evaluate visiting businesses and assess potential repeat clients based on how they benefit our county.

Our community has sacrificed so much for so long with limited meaningful assets to show and zero assurances for stability.

It is we who determine our future as we navigate our way toward a destination of resiliency and economic independence. United, we will emerge stronger, grounded in the acknowledgment of our true worth.

* Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is chairwoman of the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee. She holds the Molokai residency seat. Council’s 3 Minutes is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.


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