EDC - John DeFries

Aloha! Our September Economic Development Committee meeting featured a presentation by John De Fries, incoming President and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. John brings a neighbor island perspective to this important position that has broad impact on Hawai‘i’s economy. Key elements of his presentation included –

  • Configuring tourism to be a driver for economic diversity, increasing overall economic resilience as we recover from COVID in the years ahead.
  • Look at tourism not as a monolithic economic sector but in the context of local communities that “imprint” their products, histories, services, and identifies into their local economic systems. This helps encourage buying local products and supporting local supply chains.
  • John expressed concern about “flattening the COVID curve” permanently given how susceptible we are to future outbreaks, as demonstrated in recent months. Local industries need a stable economic platform to build upon and ongoing uncertainty about potential shutdowns depresses the viability of businesses of all sizes.
  • Central to his vision is the principle of mālama – we are all in this together. Anticipate that theme being incorporated into HTA planning and communications.
  • The steady growth of tourism in recent years is straining resources and in some areas exceeding the carrying capacity of ecosystems to visitors. That tension between local residents and visitors needs to be addressed or it will manifest itself in various forms. It is crucial for communities at the local level to decide for themselves what level of visitor engagement they wish to support and State/County governments must then create public policies in alignment with the desires of local communities.

We also had an excellent update from Diane Ley, Hawai‘i County Director of Research and Development. She summarized the County’s successful efforts to distribute CARES funds through a variety of grant programs that include R&D, businesses and non-profits, housing assistance, utilities, and food assistance. This is an on-going effort as ~$80M in Federal funds are expended through the remainder of 2020 across Hawai‘i County.

Interested in attending our Economic Development Meetings? Feel free to join us the third Thursday of each month at 11:30!


Doug Simons