Renewed Interest in the Pacific

There’s just something about paradise. No one would argue that the cost-of-living is among the perks of defense industry jobs in Honolulu, but you can’t argue with the office views.

Tourism is Hawaii’s largest source of income, but defense ranks second. The military spends about $6.5 billion annually and related spending results in an estimated $12.2 billion annual economic impact, according to a report by the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce.

As the crossroads of the Pacific, Honolulu has long been a major naval center, but defense industry opportunities in other fields, including intelligence, astrophysics and alternative energy, are expanding. Honolulu is the capital, and most populated city in Hawaii. Honolulu was recently named by Businessweek as the third best city in America for its quality of life. Beautiful beaches, clean air, and relatively low unemployment and low home foreclosures were listed as a few of the reasons Honolulu makes a great place to live and work.

The defense industry workforce is split between native Hawaiians and veterans or contractors who traveled to Hawaii for work and fell in love with the quality of life. The Army’s Schofield Barracks and Naval Station Pearl Harbor are both located in Honolulu and the Army, Navy and Marine presence can be felt across the island. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is the largest industrial employer in Hawaii and the U.S. Government is the state’s biggest employer. Hawaii is the third-ranking state in per-capita defense spending and has one of the highest per-capita populations of service members.

The defense industry is the largest industry-related workforce, employing 101,500 and representing 16.5 percent of Hawaii’s workforce.

The Changing Military Bootprint

Hawaii’s relationship with the defense industry hasn’t always been a rosy one. Concerns arose in the 1990s over the environmental impact of military training exercises on the island. In the years since the military has partnered with the local population on environmental initiatives. They have shared goals of softening the defense department’s environmental boot print in the region.

“Sustainability is a big deal here in Hawaii,” said Charlie Ota, vice president of military affairs for the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. “Eighty-to-ninety percent of stuff is imported here – we’re an island. The military is a big partner with the state in any kind of initiative that involves sustainability. That is a growing sector of the industry – renewable or clean energy.”

Hawaii is a vital state as the military looks to expand its presence, and increase its focus, on the Pacific. As the department of defense looks to slash budgets and cut spending, the Pacific region is one area both President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have said they’re looking to enhance military presence. Mentioned specifically in the defense department’s new strategic guidance for 2012, renewed focus on military operations in the Pacific will only increase the importance of Honolulu’s defense industry.

Defense Contracts and R&D

When it comes to defense contractors, a variety of companies have a presence in Hawaii, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and BAE Systems, Raytheon and Booz Allen Hamilton. BAE Systems shipyard division represents one of the largest employers and biggest employment sectors, said Ota. In addition to shipbuilding, manufacturing, and naval research, cryptology also has a new home in Hawaii. In January, the National Security Agency held a dedication for a new facility that will focus on breaking the codes of foreign adversaries.

Hawaii also has a significant number of universities connected to the department of defense through research and development projects, said Ota. Hawaii universities have increased focus on research and development in a variety of arenas in the past several years, and are gearing up to improve technology transfer and commercialization of university R&D.

And while high cost of living can be a factor, high compensation helps defense industry professionals looking to relocate. Ranked nine on the list of top paying states for defense and intelligence community professionals according to’s 2012 Compensation Survey, both defense contractors and active duty personnel generally receive cost-of-living adjustments, helping compensation on the island remain competitive.

Honolulu, Hawaii has held a strong military presence for half a century, but it’s the island’s ability to adapt its mission, and enhance its capabilities, that makes it a place cleared professionals can continue to look to for competitive employment opportunities.

Related News

Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer