As our nation and Hawai‘i face turbulent economic times, I am focused in Congress on meeting the immediate challenges before us while investing in a more sustainable and prosperous future. I am fighting for targeted assistance for Hawaii’s main economic drivers, including tourism and hospitality, military spending and agriculture. I am also looking to support new industries to help diversify Hawaii’s economy.
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Response
Small businesses remain the lifeblood of Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i has over 130,000 small businesses; that’s about 1 small business for every 11 people. Despite the average Hawai‘i small business employing just 12 people, these small businesses still employ a majority of our workforce.
In Congress, I have been an advocate for small business assistance programs that help our state. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have secured billions of dollars for the key small business assistance programs managed by the SBA. For example, for Fiscal Year 2020 the SBA received $847.6 million, an increase of $132.2 million above the prior year levels.
Given the rich ethnic diversity in Hawai‘i, minority-based programs are particularly important to Hawai‘i. Almost 93% of small businesses in Hawai‘i are minority-owned. They depend on and have received great benefit from programs such as the 8(a) Business Development program and the HUBZone program, which help provide a level playing field for small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people and historically underutilized business zones. I am focused on ensuring the continuation of these programs to empower some of our nation’s under-represented populations that are the true drivers of Hawaii’s small businesses.
Agriculture, which is Hawaii’s third-largest industry, is at a critical junction but can help ensure a diversified economy for our state. With the loss of pineapple and sugar, Hawai‘i needs to transition to diversified agriculture sustainably. As Hawai‘i moves forward with its goal to double local food production by 2030, I will continue to leverage my position on the House Appropriations Committee to help local food production and fund research and agricultural programs that benefit the specialty crops found in our Hawai‘i. By diversifying our ag economy, our state can become more resilient to economic uncertainty and self-sufficient.
Diversifying Our Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic and other periods of economic uncertainty, such as the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11, illustrate how reliant Hawaii’s economy is on tourism and vulnerable it is to a recession. I have long supported developing a technology industry in Hawai‘i to help diversify our economy. The technology sector provides high paying jobs that are not at the mercy of high export shipping costs, and the federal defense presence in Hawai‘i offers technology and 8(a) startups an excellent partner. To that end, I have been an advocate for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program, which helps technology startups get federal contracts. I have also been looking for different avenues to close the digital divide and ensure that Hawai‘i residents can connect to the internet to ensure that Hawai‘i and our keiki remain competitive in our 21st-century economy.