JUNE 2, 2018



Luis Salaveria: Leading DBEDT, Building An Innovation Economy



This level of steady focus on his work  – that compels him to think about it from the start of morning and end of night – shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the enormous responsibilities he is tasked to do as director of one of the state’s most important departments that includes 11 attached agencies.

At the helm of DBEDT, Salaveria is the point-man who leads the department’s efforts in business development, research, foreign trade, even Hawaii’s creative and film industries. He works closely with Gov. David Ige, lawmakers, and private-sector leaders on big innovation ideas and how to implement them, and to position the state to be globally competitive in business.


The race to the top in many ways centers on innovation. And Hawaii needs leaders like Salaveria who can think about old methods, old ways of governing, and injecting innovation and creativity to bring about better results. In a way, DBEDT, under the leadership of the governor and director Salaveria, can be seen as the brain of Hawaii’s state government entrusted with innovation.

Innovation is emphasized under Gov. Ige’s administration. He strives to build an innovation economy that combines a robust local entrepreneurship and cutting-edge high technology. The governor sees innovation as a way to reverse the “brain drain” and to create 80,000 new tech and innovation jobs earning $80,000 or more by 2030.

It’s an ambitious goal for the governor and DBEDT is positioned at the front lines to help pull the state towards achieving a strong innovation economy. If you look at just a few of DBEDT’s attached agencies, you can see why.

To name a few, there is the powerful Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) and Hawaii Tourism Authority. Also under DBEDT’s umbrella are the High Technology Development Corporation, Land Use Commission, and Small Business Regulatory Review Board. These attached agencies foster planned community development and promotes innovation sector job growth.

DBEDT is also Hawaii’s resource center for economic and statistical data, energy and conservation information.

Clearly, anyone serving as its director has a 1,001 things to do and think about.
Gov. Ige selected Salaveria to head DBEDT in December 2014. The governor said of Salaveria and his other appointments selected at the time: “We are committed to finding the best and brightest in our community to serve as effective leaders in state government.”
Prior to joining DBEDT, he served as the state’s deputy director of finance for the Department of Budget and Finance, from 2011 to 2014, where he assisted in the planning, design and management of the State’s annual $12 billion operational and $3 billion capital improvement budgets.  He has extensive experience in the development and execution of multi-billion dollar budgets, which result in positive financial and organizational outcomes.

Salaveria has more than 20 years of public and private sector experience, having worked as the finance manager for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii from 2001 to 2011, and as a budget and financial analyst with the state’s Department of Defense from 1997 to 2001.

As fate would have it, Salaveria interned at DBEDT in 1992; and decades later, he is leading it now. Even he couldn’t have imagined coming full circle back then.
So what did the young Luis think he’d be doing as an adult?

“As a child I was interested in everything, so it’s funny that I ended up in a role that encompasses so many different areas. I never envisioned myself working for government, but being involved in public policy is very rewarding,” he said.

His varied interests continues today. While he’s a numbers, balance-budgeting expert and policy innovator, he appreciates Michelangelo, the renowned Italian sculptor, painter and architect, who is known as one of history’s greatest renaissance man, someone whose genius spanned multiple disciplines.

Salaveria considers Michelangelo his role model; and he quotes the great artist who once said: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” In other words, being highly ambitious is something Salaveria holds great value in – evidently, based on his accomplishments for himself and the state.

It’s not just about setting goals high, but being strong and bold to achieve those goals. He says he also draws inspiration in his personal and professional life in the Latin proverb, “Fortuna Fortes Adiuvat,” which literally means “Fortune Favors the Brave.” A more accurate description is “It is only the strong ones that Fortuna (Roman Goddess) comes to save.”

The map in Salaveria’s mind also shows interest in contemporary great thinkers. The latest book he read is Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” Ruiz is one of the bestselling authors in the genre of self help, spirituality, and wisdom, on a par with similar authors Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and Eckhart Tolle. Ruiz’s Four Agreement talks about the codes of conduct that lead to true freedom, happiness, and love.

Governance, at least by way of a good leader, ought to draw from the collective intelligence of great minds in the past and present, and from disciplines outside of just government, as Salaveria does.

He said at a VERGE Energy Conference (VERGE Hawaii is a public-private project committed to building clean energy and emerging technologies): “Governance is the way that rules, norms and actions are structured, regulated, and people are held accountable. And it`s not quite as easy as it may seem. I mean, just take a look at what`s happening nationally and even internationally. But you know what? In many ways, governance is how things get done…”

VERGE Hawaii and the state’s role in creating sustainable energy for the future ranks high in importance to Salaveria. He commented on energy at a VERGE conference, “And now, people all over the world are starting to wake up, and they`re starting to rise up.

We`re now, beginning to embrace the idea that we got to change our current path, or that we will fall victim to what is widely known as the tragedy of the commons, the idea that we have got to stop acting independently, and protect and manage our resources, because if we fail, we all fail.

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