We had a great speaker for our May economic development committee meeting with Ashley Kierkiewicz, representing District 4 on the County Council, providing a diverse range of insights into various programs. Council Member Kierkiewicz is involved with a number of committees and community organizations including Chairing the County Council’s Committee on Planning and Housing, and the County Auditor Ad Hoc Committee. She is also Vice-Chair for the County Government Operations, Relations and Economic Development Committee and Health and Social Services Committee. She serves on the Board for Vibrant Hawai‘i, an organization that has incredible reach across Hawai‘i Island and has been central to a number of COVID related community support efforts. The number and nature of the committees she serves on is a strong indication of her interest in these community support programs.
Among the initiatives she described is a Jobs Corps program that pairs youth with environmental jobs organized by DLNR. Enabled by HB1176, this program allows DLNR to form “green job youth corps” that support environmentally important projects while providing badly needed employment driven by COVID unemployment. This intersection of needs is an excellent example of State and County collaboration, effectively creating opportunities out of despair. Another program discussed is the formation of mobile greenhouses stemming from collaboration between the Hawai‘i Rise Foundation and Hawai‘i Community College (HCC) as a means of promulgating “controlled environment agriculture” (e.g., hydroponics, aquaculture, etc.) through in-situ educational opportunities for communities to help diversify their agricultural horizons. This is a natural fit to HCC’s existing educational synergies between agriculture and culinary arts, which provides an end-to-end demonstration of core industries that are important for our future economy. Another economic sector that may not be as visible as agro-culinary programs but is at least as important is our apiary (beekeeping) industry, which leverages through pollination >$200M in agricultural revenue statewide. With the well-documented threats to bees globally, the potential impact on food production globally if their declining populations continue, and Hawai‘i supplying upwards of 25% of the queen bees in the US and 75% in Canada, protecting Hawai‘i’s apiary industry is important on an international scale. Accordingly actions taken at the County level to explore issues/options to protect Hawai‘i Island’s apiary industry will be pursed over the next year, the intent being to develop an updated bee ordinance to protect this precious resource.
Other high priorities in economic development in her district and across the island include –
- On-going recovery efforts from the recent eruptions. Near-term community Puna events include “Paint Pahoa” in which downtown buildings and murals will be refreshed with new paint and “Smoke it Up!” – an event dedicated to exploring various local smoked foods to support local chefs and food producers, as well as increase awareness of farming and butchery in the Puna area. Details of these events can be found via her County website and social media.
- Making affordable housing a top priority within the Council and perhaps leading to an “Affordable Housing Fund” in partnership with various organizations and agencies and linked to the State’s housing strategic plans.
- Advancing broadband access to rural communities specifically through support of core communications infrastructure in coordination with DBEDT’s programs and numerous bills intended to reduce the “digital divide” in our communities.
- Establishing micro-credentialing programs and associated badges to help target educational needs and skills, expanding the workforce without necessarily requiring degree programs in the process.
- Continuing the Vibrant Hawai‘i Resilience Hubs across the island which help build capacity in local communities to respond to disasters, promote team building, improve communications, provide wifi, network food resources and distribution, etc.
In summary Council Member Kierkiewicz provided a “high energy” presentation and fielded numerous questions from the EDC, giving all the meeting participants a chance to explore issues of concern with one of our County leaders.
My term as Chair of the EDC ends with the June meeting and, as requested at a previous EDC meeting, for the June EDC meeting I will provide a summary of the Maunakea Observatories with a focus on the economic impact of the >500 Hawai‘i Island community members that work at the observatories. That meeting will occur on June 17 at 11:30 and I will be happy to field questions so I hope to see you then!