Gubernatorial Candidate Neil Abercrombie Unveils Plans for Technology and Innovation

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BY NEIL ABERCROMBIE – Too many of our young people feel that they can’t make ends meet, let alone pursue their dreams at home in Hawaii. It’s our most distressing trend. We can change this by weaving technology and innovation into our economy.

Technology and innovation have fundamentally changed how business is done and how people live their lives. We need to create an environment in Hawaii for innovative industries to thrive and simultaneously apply technology to all sectors. This will raise productivity and create good jobs in all areas of the economy and for all people.

It took a conscious effort by government to establish tourism in Hawaii and it will require that same discipline to establish digital media, information technology, nanotechnology, ocean sciences, biotechnology, aerospace, astronomy, and other innovation fields. These industries bring dollars into Hawaii, often have minimal impacts on our environment, enhance the quality of education, lead our drive toward self-sufficiency, and create high paying jobs for our local families.


Hawaii has made strides with investments from the federal government and the hard work of leaders who have created thousands of good jobs. But competition is fierce and time is short. The economy has become globalized. If we don’t meet that challenge within the next decade, Hawaii will be left behind. We need a long-term vision and the discipline to compete long-term. In 2007, the current administration launched its own “innovation initiative” and yet three years later our public policy in this arena is fragmented. Recent efforts to dismantle and renege on tech-related tax credits, sent a message to businesses, investors, and our young talent that Hawaii’s commitment to change is unreliable. It is the worst message we could have sent.

In an Abercrombie administration, no one will question the totality of commitment by the state to technology and innovation. We won’t have a Governor’s policy and a legislature’s policy and a private sector’s policy. We will have one policy—Hawaii’s policy—and we will unite around it. There will be collaborative private-public leadership. Because I have no other political ambition than to serve as Governor, I can assure the people of Hawaii that I will stay in office, make all necessary investments, work as a partner with industry, and see our initiatives through to completion.

Guiding Principles

Discipline, commitment, and certainty
Technology and innovation can go practically anywhere in the world at anytime, so if Hawaii is to compete we need to have a disciplined policy that sends a clear message to investors, businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers and students that we are serious, that our commitment is unwavering, and that the partnership between public agencies and private business is a strong one.

Human capital and education
The fuel of an innovation economy is our human capacity to learn and create. Everyone can contribute. Education at all levels is the fundamental investment we will make to improve our economy. Industry and public education must work very closely to support each other and ensure highly skilled employees are being prepared at the same rate that high skill jobs are being created.

Global citizens with island values
Technology and innovation are products of our minds, and we have some of the most unique and brilliant minds in the world. We must educate our children to be citizens of the world, while being grounded in Hawaii; then they will possess ideas, values, and culture that will become the most valuable export Hawaii has ever produced.

Federal opportunities while we have them
The military presence in Hawaii, our strong Congressional delegation, and now a President who understands Hawaii provide an opportunity of a lifetime to leverage every federal resource and dual use opportunity while we can in order to move the technology and innovation sectors toward sustainability and create the good jobs that we need.

Technological infusion
All sectors of the economy must be infused with technology. This will make systems more cost effective and improve quality of life for all. Government will lead by example.

Goals and measurable results
Our aspirations to succeed in technology and innovation have lacked clear, mutually accepted goals, giving us no adequate measure of progress. We must track the new economy with at least as much vigor as we track the visitor industry.

The Abercrombie Plan

  1. Governor’s Technology Council. The Abercrombie administration will assemble a council representing entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, researchers, government, and others to implement and oversee the state’s technology and innovation agenda and its integration with Hawaii’s core industries. The Council will set goals for indicators such as cross-industry projects, tech-related jobs, University tech transfer, entrepreneurial activity, workforce development, and infrastructure development. And it will design, evaluate and adjust the state’s policy to reach those goals.
  2. Science, technology and innovation in schools. As part of the Abercrombie plan to transform the school system, high standards will be developed to ensure that Hawaii’s students are the most technologically savvy in the country no matter where they live. Extensive public-private partnerships will help ensure every school has the infrastructure and expertise to make this so, and innovation at the school level will be encouraged, incentivized, and replicated. Public-private “Innovation Labs” will help to facilitate, coordinate, and support technology and innovation programs in our schools including robotics, digital media, and entrepreneurship. To help close the digital divide, there will be wireless broadband and video conferencing in all public libraries to make educational programming and information available to everyone.
  3. University system integrated with business to drive economic diversity and prosperity. To achieve our goals, the University of Hawaii system and private business must work together to become the economic driver that we have talked about for decades. Closer collaboration with the private sector will help to transition millions in Federally funded research and development activity into products and services that can lead to the startup and prosperity of world-class technology companies in Hawaii, that will stay in Hawaii. Under its new President, the University has already set a course in this direction, and in an Abercrombie administration, it will have the full backing of the state government to lead this charge.
  4. A new regime of tech incentives and capital formation supports. Hawaii’s tax incentives for investment may have been imperfect, but they were visionary and they provided a glimpse of what is possible in Hawaii—that we have the talent to build a viable technology sector. It is now time to construct a new policy regime not only with incentives to attract investment, but also with additional supports to help businesses grow along the path to becoming viable here in Hawaii and to create jobs for our people. This would include a package of redesigned tax incentives for companies at all stages of development including incentives for research and development activities, state follow-on funding for commercialization, implementing the State Private Investment Fund, and investing a larger portion of local investment funds into venture capital. A reliable supply of capital is absolutely essential if we are serious about creating good tech-related jobs in Hawaii.
  5. Building tech development and commercialization centers. Hawaii needs well-planned and resourced facilities for tech companies to incubate and grow so they can compete with ventures in other states and countries. Federal funding and government lands will be used in public-private partnerships to develop and improve tech parks across our islands.
  6. Chief Information Officer of the state. Hawaii is wasting countless millions of tax dollars each year because of antiquated and un-integrated information systems. These inefficiencies hamper private business activity and create endless frustration for government employees and citizens. A state Chief Information Officer with clear goals and benchmarks will be empowered to systematically redesign government through the creative and inspiring use of technology. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved in the Department of Education alone with better decisions and implementation of technology. Government must lead by example to help all sectors of the economy become more infused with technology, to increase cost-effectiveness and competitiveness, and improve quality.
  7. Improve the climate for businesses by improving government processes. Key to moving technology and innovation in Hawaii is a comprehensive plan to improve the climate for business, which means government needs to get its house in order and become a better partner with the private sector. See the Abercrombie Plan for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. This means tackling government permitting and regulatory processes so that they are less burdensome, providing enhanced assistance for accessing federal funding opportunities, purchasing from local vendors, protecting and marketing Hawaii’s brand, teaching business skills, and reforming procurement processes so that they are fair and sensible.