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COMMENTARY

The New Geography-Where Does Hawaii Fit In?


By Jeff Bloom and Rob Kay

In our last column we looked at an exciting new book by author and New York Times columnist Joel Kotkin. We believe Kotkin's commentary on how the digital revolution is reshaping the American landscape has a number of lessons for all of us in Hawaii. It provides us with clues as to how we might plan our future as a digital island and home to Information Age workers.

In short, Kotkin takes on the conventional wisdom that with the rise of technologies that make it possible for individuals to move away from large cities, geography is no longer as important as it once was. While on the surface this appears to be the case, Kotkin tells us that geography still plays a crucial determining where people live and work. Sure, people can live where they want, says the author, but "in reality, place--geography--matters now more than ever before."

Instead of fleeing urban areas, some cities, are becoming magnets for talented workers such as programmers, webmasters, marketing people and other highly skilled personnel whose intellectual capital are coveted by start ups. Much like Venice in the Renaissance, young, many unmarried 21st century high tech craftsmen are heading to certain types of cities that offer art, culture, food and nightlife that these individuals crave. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle or Boston are shining examples of the prototypical digital city.

Another type of New Economy worker, says Kotkin, is attracted to a community with quite a different set of surroundings, which he calls a "Nerdistan." This breed of of information worker prefers to live in spotless suburbs with top schools, parks, shopping centers and fiber optic connectivity. This crowd is generally middle-aged, married and often engineers. Examples of Nerdistans include Irvine, California or Austin, TX.

The third type of high tech community are what Kotkin refers to as "Valhallas". These are sprinkled throughout the Rockies or may be found on the East or West Coasts. The main criterion for these high tech nirvanas is their quality of life. Once mining or fishing towns they are now being populated by world-weary executives--the New Economy elite--who delight in recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing or golf. They also have the money set up shop wherever the climate suites them. Park City, Utah or Camden, Maine are examples of these type of communities.

Hawaii as the New Valhalla?

So where exactly does Hawaii fit into the scheme of things?

Can we offer high tech workers the amenities found in a digital city such as San Francisco or San Diego? Do we provide the high tech accoutrements desired by denizens of a Nerdistan such as Irvine, California? Or, should we couch ourselves as a Valhalla such as Boulder, Colorado?

Before we even tackle these questions, we must ask ourselves what we want as a community. Are Hawaii people willing to embrace change and work towards turning their towns into high tech havens? Change often does not come easy to Hawaii and some people fight economic development as if it were the devil incarnate.

So Where Are We Going?

In truth, whether we like it or not-we're already in the throes of rapid change. High tech businesses are springing up throughout the islands and the demand is keen for programmers, marketing people and system administrators. Mean while, stock-option rich mainlanders outbid each other for properties in places in neighborhoods such as Kahala on Oahu or in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

In Honolulu, slowly but surely, local people who once lived on the mainland are coming back home to participate in the New Economy. Susan Scott, formerly a publisher at Upside Magazine, one of the hottest journalistic properties in Silicon Valley, is determined to move back to Honolulu where she grew up. In the meantime she commutes between her home in Cupertino and her second home in Oahu.

Likewise, the younger high tech Turks are setting up shop here. Kimi Takazawa, a thirty something PR practitioner has established E-List -- a social group of technology workers who gather to network at some of Honolulu nightclubs and restaurants. No, we haven't become San Francisco but it seems the rudiments are in place.

Is this movement a flash in the pan or do we really have what it takes to make Hawaii a top-notch technology center? In the next and final column we'll examine this issue.

Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published March 23, 2001

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