Hawaii County has received $500,000 from the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge for its proposal to restructure the local economy.

The project to create a closed-loop economic system on the big island was named a finalist in the competition, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Out of the 60 finalists, 20 to 30 will receive additional federal money, up to $100 million, to follow through on their proposals, according to the news release.

In its proposal, Hawaii County laid out a plan to give locals a larger piece of the economic pie by better utilizing its land and ocean resources and diverse growing climates.

“The state imports around 90% of its food, equating to [$3 billion] leaving the state each year; diverting just 20% of that capital to local producers would double the sector’s market share and every 10% that is diverted would represent 2,300 new jobs,” the proposal noted.

Mainstream retailers sell only a small amount of locally grown products. The project would, among other things, get more locally produced food into retailers and grocery stores, according to the proposal.

At the center of the proposal is what Hawaii County called its “Agricultural Cluster,” comprised not just of land, but all the systems intricately connected to the production of food, including supply-chain infrastructure, transportation, warehousing, processing and manufacturing, all of which are tied to potentially creating thousands of new jobs for Hawaiians.

The proposal “recommends projects that will serve island residents and small business owners who have persevered in the face of repeated economic and geopolitical shocks resulting from natural disasters including hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding, and volcanic eruptions; and pandemics such as SARS and now COVID-19,” according to information from the EDA.

Hawaii County pointed out its unemployment rate is still behind the rest of the state and the U.S. rate.

The project would include building Hawaii Island Agricultural Innovation Industrial Park (AIIP) and Food Systems Campus, improving an existing industrial space to be used for shared use processing and business services while the AIIP campus is built, expanding breadfruit agroforestry production and expanding availability of canoe crop varietals, among other initiatives.

The goal would be to have all the proposed projects completed by the end of September 2027.