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Hawaii Makes Big Push to Support, Grow Tech Industry

The 2015 legislative session bolsters innovation and the state’s energy outlook.

The island state of Hawaii is aiming millions of dollars toward its technology and innovation sector, and hoping for some big returns on the investment.

Roughly $30 million was approved by the Legislature and first-term Gov. David Ige to attract, advance and bolster tech-centric businesses throughout the state.

Cindy McMillan, spokesperson for the Ige administration, said the 2015 legislative session, which closed in May, will provide more resources to companies that are looking to expand their innovative efforts through manufacturing grants and workforce development.

“Manufacturing is a small industry in Hawaii, but we have seen a rising demand for local companies wanting to manufacture [here]," McMillan said. "Quality control is a major concern when outsourcing manufacturing. Also the demand for ‘Made In Hawaii’ products is increasing."

According to McMillan, millions in grant dollars will help to defray the initial costs of new companies coming to the state.

“Technology and innovation sectors are fast becoming a leading economic development engine in Hawaii," she said. "More than 78,000 are employed in the tech and innovation sector.  Seventeen companies received over $16 million in investment and 21 companies have received over $24 million in SBIR [Small Business Innovation Resarch] funding."

The state, in particular the High Technology Development Corp., is trying to draw in 80,000 technology and innovation jobs, earning $80,000 a year, by 2030. The plan, which was unveiled at the beginning of the year, is aptly named the “80/80” plan. 

Among other legislative undertakings, substantial investment to “critical infrastructure” in the form of expanded broadband capability and smart grid development made the list of fiscal priorities.

Deficiencies in the existing broadband system are cited as a deterrent to tech-centric industries and are the motivation behind the investment of some $30 million in the systems.

“For Hawaii, slow download speeds (bandwidth deficiency) has been identified as one of the barriers we need to overcome to accelerate the growth of technology and innovation companies. This past legislative session, Gov. Ige signed into law several bills that will provide $30 million for energy and broadband infrastructure and support for technology and manufacturing businesses,” the spokesperson said.

The push for greater connectivity will also help to drive the conversation about and implementation of smart grid technologies. McMillan said that to have an effective smart utilities system, instant and reliable communications networks are essential.

“Bolstering Hawaii’s broadband network will be critical as our electric utilities make the transition to smart grid technology. The traditional utility model of controlling everything from a central location will be replaced with more localized solutions. In this environment, communications will be the key. And given the need for instantaneous response, high-speed broadband at the circuit level will be a necessity,” she said. “Smart grid technology doesn’t just benefit utilities. It provides residents and businesses with greater choice on how they get, and how they manage, their energy needs. When energy choices are provided in such a way as to reward customers who utilize technology to lower the cost of energy with lower electric bills, this benefits everyone.” 

State leadership is also looking toward renewable energy systems and has penned a first-of-its-kind policy goal to take the state to 100 percent renewable energy reliance by 2045. 

As it stands, Hawaii is heavily reliant on the energy produced by fossil fuels, making it somewhat vulnerable to price fluctuations and shortages. 

McMillan said the idea of energy independence is not a new concept in the island chain.

“Our energy policy directives focus on a diversified energy portfolio, modernizing our energy infrastructure while protecting our unique ecosystem, and letting the market work," she said. "These common themes are so universally embraced throughout Hawaii that the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, our quest for energy independence, has survived relatively intact through three gubernatorial administrations."

Incremental planned shifts to the balance of Hawaii's energy portfolio in 2020, 2040 and 2045, make the island state the first state in the nation to outline such a policy.

Whatever the lasting effect of the investments may be, officials are hopeful it will mean a boost in not only the economy of Hawaii, but overall system efficiencies as well.

Eyragon Eidam is the managing editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the daily news editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.