CENTRAL OAHU, Hawai‘i – A major component of the Whitmore Project, Enterprise Zone No. 1, North Shore-Wahiawa-Mililani, has been re-designated till September 30, 2036. Working with the Honolulu City Council, City & County of Honolulu, and the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DEBDT), Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (Dist. 22 - Mililani Mauka, Waipi‘o Acres, Wheeler, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, portion of Poamoho) helped push and usher the re-designation. The newly configured Enterprise Zone No.1, North Shore-Wahiawa-Mililani includes all the agricultural lands between Wahiawa and the North Shore.
Hawai‘i's Enterprise Zone Partnership Program was established in 1986 to stimulate economic growth by offering state and county tax incentives for certain types of businesses, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and technology. Eligible agricultural production and processing businesses are eligible for general excise tax and income tax exemptions, and receive a two-year exemption from any increase in property taxes resulting from new construction.
In addition to the re-designation of Enterprise Zone No. 1, Sen. Dela Cruz is working with the DBEDT and the Hawai‘i Foreign-Trade Zone No. 9 in applying for and establishing an ag-foreign trade zone within the agribusiness tech park. One benefit of a foreign trade zone is the deferring of tariffs and duties on imports and exports. This incentive will allow farmers to keep more cash on hand allowing them to reinvest into their businesses.
"We are looking at what Federal, State and County incentives we can layer to decrease the overhead cost of business for farmers. The State needs to be a proactive partner so we can decrease food imports, increase local food production, and keep our dollars in the local economy," said Sen. Dela Cruz. “We have to be aggressive with public-private partnerships to help our local businesses.”
Preserving agricultural land and providing economic incentives are only the first steps to revitalizing Hawai‘i's agriculture industry. Farmers still face challenges such as increased costs, month-to-month leases, global competition - all have contributed to the shrinking of Hawai‘i's agriculture industry while increasing foods imports, which is now almost 90 percent, according to industry analysts.
Sen. Dela Cruz has long supported and understood the farmers’ need to remain competitive in local markets, which includes creating value-added products and ag-tourism. Consolidating activities, such as processing, packaging, and retail into a single location creates a cluster for ag-businesses. Sen. Dela Cruz believes the Whitmore Agribusiness Technology Park can become a destination for the local and visitor industry creating a regional economic development hub in a rural community.
“Not only does this help in saving the agriculture industry or protecting agriculture lands, it is about creating jobs. Job creation and economic revitalization will help residents live, work, and play in their communities. Furthermore, creating jobs in the Central Oahu region will reverse traffic commutes into urban Honolulu," Sen. Dela Cruz added. "These types of development can be used as models for other regions in the State."
The ADC, University of Hawai‘i's School of Architecture Community Design Center, and the University of Arkansas Community Design Center is currently developing a master plan for the agribusiness tech park. Stakeholders expect plans to be completed by fall of next year.
Sen. Dela Cruz recognizes such initiatives in Central Oahu will not only help sustain the local agricultural industry, but hopefully grow Hawai‘i's local agricultural businesses towards a globally competitive future. It is his belief that the Whitmore Project serves as a model which can be replicated throughout the State.