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In Final Chamber Address, Ige Touts Past Big Island Projects with Eye on More to Come

By Tom Hasslinger
June 24, 2022, 5:02 PM HST
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In his final address at the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce annual luncheon, Gov. David Ige bid farewell to a group he’s worked closely with during his eight-year governorship and recapped some of the major accomplishments his administration helped land on the Big Island – which have been many.

Ige has been the keynote speaker to the chamber’s annual membership and award luncheon every year during his eight years in office. The last two years have been held virtually, but Ige attended those as well.

“I really want to thank all of you for being so kind every time I come to Hawai‘i Island,” Ige said.

On Friday at the Fairmont Orchid resort in Waikōloa, Ige celebrated a number of Big Island projects his administration promised to deliver, and did.

During the last eight years, those projects have totaled $20 billion, $1 billion in infrastructure alone. The list includes a widened and resurfaced Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway, an expanded and upgraded Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole, a $90 million Keahuolū Courthouse, millions in support for the expansion of NELHA, a community college campus at Pālamanui and multiple affordable living housing developments.

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“I made an effort to invest in Hawai‘i Island when I became the governor,” Ige said.

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Investments are still happening.

Just this week Ige’s office released more capital improvement project funds for the Big Island, including monies to pay off the recently completed federal inspection station at the airport.

“And yes, we finished the federal inspection station under budget,” Ige said to a smattering of applause.

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The upgraded, expanded airport comes just in time for the return of international travel. 

Ige recently returned from a visit to Japan where he learned Japan Airlines has agreed to begin direct flights from Tokyo to Kona beginning Aug. 1. The Japanese company is doing so with some trepidation, as many unknowns still linger regarding COVID-19, but the airline has committed to landing in Kona.

It’s up to residents to roll out a hospitable rug, Ige said, as tourism is the No. 1 economic driver in the islands and Japan is the one market that hasn’t returned to pre-COVID travel numbers.

“We need to make Aug. 1 successful,” Ige said. “We can make the launch happen in an important way.”

Ige began his half-hour address to the couple hundred in attendance in the resort ballroom by reflecting on lesson learned from the pandemic, and celebrating successes the islands achieved through it.

The Commonwealth Fund – a private foundation that supports independent research on health care issues and makes grants to improve health care practice and policy – ranked Hawai‘i as the No. 1 state in handling the pandemic. It included over 50 measures to get to the ranking, where Hawai‘i’s zero days of having an “overwhelmed” hospital system played into that earning that top spot. 

It’s a ranking the departing governor said he was proud to be a part of.

“I really take my hat off,” he said to Hawai‘i’s healthcare workers.

And lessons they learned from the pandemic they implemented into this year’s state budget, allocating $6.7 million into expanding doctor residency and nursing programs through the university to keep young healthcare workers here as they enter the workforce.  The state is also bolstering internship programs in high schools and in state departments with the same goal, to give young professionals a chance to begin their careers in the islands.

“We did great things during the COVID pandemic and we will be better for it,” he said.

While those points had an eye on the future, Ige’s address was, in part, a stroll down memory lane. But the eight years have been packed with Big Island visits, and Big Island projects, as the governor noted, worth remembering.

“It truly has been an honor to serve as the governor of the state of Hawai‘i,”  Ige said at the end. “I am so proud of all you.”

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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