By Stewart Yerton
August 3, 2023 |

Business accelerators, small manufacturers and firms researching and developing new technologies are assessing a potentially rocky path over the next year after a bill to provide grant funds for economic development died following a fractious legislative session.

House Bill 999 would have provided $6 million to the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. for grants to help diversify Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy by supporting small businesses.

But Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and several colleagues added a provision changing HTDC’s enabling statute in the final days of session. The change, which Dela Cruz and his fellow senators added with no explanation or opportunity for public debate or comment, disqualified the University of Hawaii’s vice president of innovation and research from serving on the tech agency board.

Gov. Josh Green subsequently vetoed the bill saying it was wrong to change a statute to target one person.

Now businesses that relied on the funding are looking ahead to a year without the support they once had. Sherry Menor-McNamara, president of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said some sectors have particularly benefited from the small grants, some of which provide matching funds to businesses that competed successfully for federal money for technology innovation.

“It’s definitely helped the manufacturing industry,” Menor-McNamara said. “From a business lens, we need to determine how any growth in the industry might be limited.”

Menor-McNamara said the chamber will talk to policymakers to try to make sure the money is there next year.

Makana McClellan, a spokeswoman for Green, said HTDC has requested money from a discretionary fund but that the governor has not made a decision.

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