Hawaii: Economic Activity In The Aloha State

Steady focus on key industries, including tourism and film, supports Hawaii’s economic recovery.

By Anne Cosgrove
From the May / June 2023 Issue


In April, the Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) announced the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March was 3.5%, compared to 3.6% in February (U.S. BLS).

“Civilian employment recorded 659,650 people at work in March 2023, 6,950 more than in March 2022, or an increase of 1.1%, and 6.2% higher than the 621,400 employed in March 2021 reflecting the ongoing recovery of Hawai‘i’s economy from COVID-19,” said DBEDT Director, James Kunane Tokioka, who recently took the helm there.

“The tourism industry was busy in March with over 900,000 visitors, the second-highest monthly figure in the last three years,” Tokioka added. “While U.S. visitor arrivals remained high, visitation from international markets was the highest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at 182,478 arrivals and represented a 62.4 percent recovery from the same month in 2019.”

Hawaii economic recovery
Foreign Trade Zone 9, between downtown Honolulu (above) and Kakaako, holds the corporate grant of authority from the federal government to reduce the barriers to international trade. (Photo: Adobe Stock / Waldteufel)


DBEDT as a whole has been focusing on areas such as ag-tech and value-added services and developing facilities that will support growth of exports, innovation and technology in providing grants for small businesses to expand, investing in infrastructure and facilities to support and grow the creative media and film industry and develop the pipeline for a local workforce. One program is the Hi-CAP program, jointly managed by the Hawai‘i Technology Development Corporation and Hawai‘i Green Infrastructure Authority (agencies to DBEDT), which provides capital assistance to businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

For existing business, incentives and programs include the Hawaii State Trade Expansion Program, a program designed to assist small business with export development; the Enterprise Zones Partnership Program which provides state and county benefits to companies in an effort to stimulate business activity, job preservation, and job creation in target areas; Innovate Hawai‘i, a federal program administered by the Hawai‘i Technology Development Corporation and designed to bring best practices to small- and medium-sized manufacturing and pre-manufacturing businesses at an affordable cost; a motion picture, digital media and film production income tax credit; and a royalties tax exemption.

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Said Tokioka, “As our economy continues to improve, it is expected that the impact from the economic slowdown in the nation will be offset by the increase in international tourism. DBEDT continues to work with its stakeholders to diversify the economy and promote innovation sector job growth, providing opportunities for the residents of Hawai‘i.”

Refinery At FTZ9 Going Green

Meanwhile, this Spring marked a first for Hawaii’s Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) program with Par Hawaii named the first refinery in the nation authorized to use renewable feedstock to produce renewable fuels under FTZ procedures. This authorization by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Foreign-Trade Zones Board expands Par Hawaii’s FTZ Production Authority to manufacture fuels such as renewable diesel, sustainable aviation fuel, and naphtha, using both foreign and domestically sourced crude soybean oil and refined soybean oil.

Check out all the latest news related to Hawaii economic development, corporate relocation, corporate expansion and site selection.


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