Let’s find our way back home | News, sports, jobs
US Congress has yet to agree on a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill. While we await their decision, Hawaii will officially welcome visitors to the islands on November 1st. Could this be ours? “back to normal?” Should it be?
Before the global pandemic changed everything in March 2020, our economy was flourishing through conventional measures. Unemployment was below 3 percent and Maui had broken its own visitor records for four consecutive years. As the number of visitor arrivals approached 3 million a year, we also learned that more is not necessarily better.
In 1962, Maui’s first resort hotel, the Royal Lahaina, opened in Ka’anapali. The population of our county was just under 40,000 when Amfac Inc. launched the plan to complement ours “a note” Plantation economy with tourism. No one could have predicted how quickly this emerging industry would develop into the dominant economic power of Maui County. Fast forward to 2021. In less than 60 years, tourism has spread out of the holiday areas and into our neighborhoods, exacerbating a chronic housing shortage and driving up the already high cost of living.
Maui County is more vulnerable than before after the pandemic. Inadequate infrastructure, a one-sided economy, and reliance on unreliable supply chains for our food and fuels mean we are a natural or man-made disaster out of a crisis. My four pillars of the rebuilding plan include adapting tourism, upgrading to green infrastructure, diversifying our economy, and strengthening Maui County’s assets. With the exception of temporary holiday homes, we have been dealing with these topics for a long time.
It took decades for tourism to overtake our plantation economy and develop into industrial tourism. While the hotel industry is redesigning its comeback, guided, regenerative tourism is the new ideal. I understand the demands for immediate curbs on tourism, but I believe evolution, not revolution, is the more sensible way to go. The easiest way to rebuild our economy is to keep our hospitality industry going while we nurture other industries.
Our global environment is at risk and Maui County is now facing climate change and sea level rise. Expected federal infrastructure funding can help build and improve roads and bridges and relocate country roads inland to prevent flooding. We can also use federal funds to improve our water and wastewater recovery systems, as well as environmental remediation and broadband upgrade across the county. These investments create jobs for the construction industry and offer the island’s youth new career opportunities. This needed infrastructure will also accelerate residential property development – especially affordable rents and accessible housing for working families.
Technology will lead our economic diversification program by maximizing the potential of our research and technology park in Kihei. Everyone wins when our best and brightest can stay home or come home for lucrative STEM careers. Aerospace, astronomy, renewable energy, marine science, and ecosystem restoration are other technology-related opportunities. Investing in health care that integrates East and West best practices can empower conventional medicine with preventive wellbeing. These changes will require curriculum changes in our schools and universities as today’s youth prepare for a brighter future.
Eventually, my administration will continue to strengthen Maui County’s assets by buying land for new housing that local residents can afford. We also plan to create more parks, nature and cultural reserves for future generations. All of this is possible when we work together.
Maui County’s people are recovering from the worst public health and economic crisis in modern history. Let’s not go back to the normal course of business by chasing more economic growth at all costs. Instead, let’s find our way back home. Let’s build an appropriate, diversified economy that is compatible with our country and our people.
* “Our district” a column by Maui Mayor Michael Victorino discusses county affairs and county government activities. The column changes with “3 minutes of council” every other weekend.