Visions of a Robust and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 Economy

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Hawaiʻi business owners and community members both envision a post-COVID-19 local economy that departs from the state’s longstanding economic drivers of the past and instead prioritizes diversified industries that promote sustainability and support residents’ basic needs, according to two new reports.

These findings and others are reported in two complementary issue briefs released on December 3, entitled A Better Kind of Normal: Native Hawaiian and Non-Hawaiian Priorities for Hawaiʻi’s Post-COVID-19 Economy and Resilient Present, Self-Sufficient Future: An Examination of COVID-19 Impacts on Native Hawaiian Businesses and Preferences for Hawaiʻi’s Future Economy.

Both reports are the result of an online survey administered in June 2020 by the Native Hawaiian COVID-19 Research Hui: a collaboration between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), Kamehameha Schools (KS), and Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT), in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Leadership Forum, Kupu, and the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. Over 2,000 residents, business owners and nonprofit executives in Hawaiʻi responded to the survey.

“These reports provide insight into the interests of Hawaiʻi’s residents and businesses for a post-COVID-19 economy. Put simply, there is agreement that our local economy must change and be more self-sufficient moving forward,” said OHA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Sylvia Hussey.

“These reports are critical because they provide timely data and information intended to help guide policymakers, businesses, foundations and nonprofits working together to expand sustainable sectors.”

Brandon Ledward, KS Strategy & Transformation Group principal strategist said, “The findings from these reports provide insight into the desires of Hawaiʻi residents and the business community. It is a resounding vote for a future that is more economically self-sufficient and sustainable. This affirms the work that we have started doing, together with partners, to strengthen the agriculture and local food system in Hawaiʻi in order to become more food and economically resilient.”

Kupu CEO John Leong agreed, adding, “As we look toward building a stronger and healthier Hawaiʻi, this report provides a wonderful vision of what local entrepreneurs and communities see as the direction for our state. It underlines the importance of a regenerative, values-based economy where we lift each other up.

“We all must take a gut check and use this moment in time to re-envision how we diversify our economy through new industries and reimagine our existing economic pillars to make them healthier and more values-driven, while also being sustainable and able to breathe life into our islands.”

The reports paint a clear desire for change.

Hawaiʻi residents indicate that our economic future should focus on sustainable and diversified industries such as agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, and fishing, and clean, renewable-based energy. Moreover, islanders want our post-pandemic economy to move away from the workforce sectors in transportation, and oil and petroleum-based energy, as well as the state’s major economic pillars of the past, such as land development for commercial, government, military and tourism use.

Additionally, Hawaiʻi residents indicate that they want an economy that focuses on their basic needs. Living wages, local agriculture and food production, and housing and healthcare that is affordable, available and accessible, were identified as key components of a strong, sustainable future economy.

The report also highlights county-specific COVID-19 impacts and future economic priorities. For example, 83% of businesses in Maui County report a negative impact, compared to 63% – 78% of businesses in the other three counties. Maui County respondents also ranked mainstream tourism as their 10th future economic priority, compared to 16th place by Honolulu County, and 18th place by both Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi Counties.

The reports also indicate that Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians have different views of our islands’ economy.

Education was found to be a higher priority among Native Hawaiians for themselves and their families than non-Hawaiians. This may be in part due to Native Hawaiians being less satisfied with education before COVID-19 and experiencing more negative effects during COVID-19 than non-Hawaiian residents.

Additionally, while Native Hawaiian businesses continue to experience negative effects as a result of COVID-19, these disruptions continue to be less severe for Native Hawaiian-owned businesses than for non-Hawaiian-owned businesses. This may be due in part to Native Hawaiian businesses being less reliant on tourism as a revenue source, the report says, a finding consistent with results from the first business impact survey.

Native Hawaiian-owned businesses were also found to be less likely to request assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program than non-Hawaiian owned businesses (21% versus 31%, respectively). However, both Native Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian owned businesses that requested assistance were equally likely to report receiving support from this program.

“This report clearly demonstrates that Hawaiʻi residents and business owners recognize the need for a radical shift in Hawaiʻi’s economy,” said OHA CEO Hussey. “Unlike our pre-COVID economy, Native Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian community members want a new post-COVID economy that focuses on supporting the needs of local ʻohana and prioritizes the health of our ʻāina.”

Added LT’s Nālei Akina, “The survey findings point to a pathway out of the cycle of poverty in which too many Native Hawaiian families are mired.”

These reports are the third and fourth publications co-produced by the Native Hawaiian COVID-19 Research Hui. The goal of the collaboration is to gather and provide data that explores the ways Native Hawaiians have been impacted by the pandemic and the systemic conditions that place our communities at greater risk, and inform pathways for moving forward to create a new normal.

In May, the hui released the COVID-19 Impacts on Native Hawaiian Businesses issue brief that detailed the challenges and potential needs of Native Hawaiian businesses during the pandemic.

In July, the hui released Native Hawaiians At-Risk of Intimate Partner Violence During COVID-19 that reported on the vulnerabilities and potential impact of COVID-19 on Native Hawaiians experiencing, or at-risk of, intimate partner violence.

More information about the Native Hawaiian COVID-19 Research Hui and its projects, including the two new reports, can be found at sites.google.com/ksbe.edu/nh-covid19/home.