Friday, September 09, 2016


High-tech not producing the jobs we need to pay for affordable housing

It seems to happen with increasing frequency. An ambitious local entrepreneur announces that she’s moving to the West Coast, or a feisty Hawaii-born startup announces that it’s setting up an office in San Francisco. The Facebook post gets dozens of likes and congratulatory comments, but more than a few “sad” emoticons as well.—
Ryan Ozawa in Civil Beat article

by Larry Geller

I don’t know about “increasing frequency”—so-called “high-tech” firms have been packing up and leaving Hawaii (with, thankfully, some exceptions) since I began watching in 1989.

It would be strange if there were no high-tech here, but not surprising that both new ventures and established companies move to where their markets or suppliers are.

Investors don’t care, as long as their investment grows.

We should care by measuring the effectiveness of taxpayer money spent growing and attracting these high-tech firms. Why? We need well-paying jobs for Hawaii people, not better jobs for Mainland folks.

Just before the millennium the state was promoting a “high tech park” that was really a Castle & Cook industrial park near Mililani, not much more than that. Castle & Cooke was the most important player in the deals, because it could make it attractive for a company to set up in the park. Nevertheless, companies like Verifone left, and Motorola, despite a commendable effort to convince them to move to Hawaii, ultimately declined.

The state and the newspapers regularly highlight one high-tech darling after another. “Success” stories such as Hoku Scientific turned sour in due time.

Hawaii is indeed a great place to start a business. Particularly if the founders or CEO are attached to the lifestyle or the climate. Sooner or later the bean counters come knocking, though, urging that CEO to put away the surfboard and check out the most appropriate place for the company to locate in order to prosper. Investors urge the same. And so the company leaves.

I’ve written about this often enough.

Let’s look at the big picture. We need well-paying jobs here, whether high-tech,  low-tech or no-tech. Housing is expensive. We need more truly affordable housing (which would, incidentally, make the state a more reasonable place to start and retain a business—employees need to be able to afford to live here!).

We have a homelessness “crisis” that requires we not only have housing but have jobs that can pay the rent.

Should we be investing in high-tech as a solution?

Maybe. But so far, it isn’t working. In fact, a February 2015 Star-Advertiser editorial page article noted that Hawaii is last in the nation in high-tech jobs—yes, last out of 51 states and DC.

As taxpayers, we deserve a report on the return on our investments. It won’t be easy increasing the number of well-paying jobs, but it’s important to work on it.

No, I don’t have a great idea on how to do that. Sorry, I don’t believe in pie in the sky solutions. But something’s gotta give, we can’t afford to just increase taxes on a population already experiencing growing poverty.


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