Growing an Innovation Economy

As technology evolves and presents new challenges and opportunities, Hawaii Gov. David Ige is planning for what’s next.

by / October/November 2017

Anyone who’s ever managed anyone or anything knows that things never roll along predictably. Declaring as a leader that you’ve got a complete handle on problem X, issue Y or project Z is dangerous talk indeed. There is always more to learn, and challenges will come your way that you can’t totally anticipate.

As with technology as a whole, cybersecurity, an issue we come at from various angles in the October/November edition of Government Technology magazine, is constantly changing. New threats, new tactics and new attackers require constant vigilance. Likewise, an effective strategy requires spending some time rising above today’s challenges and planning for what’s to come.

In Hawaii, Gov. David Ige is focused on building an innovation economy. He recognizes that while the state is in a good spot relative to unemployment (at nearly 3 percent, the third lowest rate in the country), growing the state’s knowledge industries will best position Hawaii for job growth. One step on the path is an early college program that lets high school students earn enough credits through college-level courses to earn AA degrees at nearly the same time they finish high school. The first cohort of participants will graduate next May — they’ll actually get their associates’ degrees a couple weeks before high school graduation. Ige has some well-placed faith in the program, citing studies that show it’s an effective way to point students who don’t come from households with college graduates toward post-high school studies.

“It demonstrates to them in a very real way that they can take college-level courses and succeed,” Ige said. “We are seeing a tremendous increase in the college-going rate for those who are first-time going-to-college family members.” Further, as we’ve seen in several other states, Hawaii is eliminating the cost barrier to attending community college. In a partnership between the state and the University of Hawaii, they’ve pledged to make up the difference between the full cost of tuition and the amount the student is determined to be able to pay through the federal student aid program.

Another element in nurturing the innovation economy is applying resources to the development of entrepreneurship and innovation programs at the University of Hawaii. One component of their strategy is to relax some rules that have historically made it harder for leading research and development faculty to take their work to the commercial marketplace. “In all communities where you want an economic transformation, where you want to see innovation and technology take off, a thriving research-focused university is at the heart of each and every one of those transformations,” he said.

And speaking of transformations, Ige argues that Hawaii is well-positioned to take advantage of the modern technological age, with its ubiquitous Internet and everything-as-a-service. “Before, in our history, our geographic isolation was a barrier,” he said, clarifying that it hampered the state’s abilities relative to economic development. But today, he makes a compelling case for an autonomous vehicle test bed in the state, as well as a testing site for UAVs — no border states to worry about, giving them more geographic freedom to fully explore the capabilities of these new technologies. Further, he recognizes the potential for drone and sensor technology to help combat invasive species and aid in conservation efforts.

“Encouraging companies and encouraging students to expand their scope of vision to really believe that Hawaii can be an innovator, can be a world leader, is important.”

Now that’s planning for what’s next.

Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.