I am honored to join all of you in this 2012 Annual Conference. To our visitors, in addition to your business discussions and networking, I hope that you will also take some time to enjoy the beauty of these islands and the aloha of our people. Who knows, it may even increase your appetite for an additional line or two of Hawaii products.
Let us not forget for a moment who the ultimate beneficiary of all this activity is. Yes, many Hawaii businesses will have another outlet for their products and produce. Yes, Hawaii's economy will benefit.
But the primary beneficiary, our fiduciary, first and foremost, is to America's armed forces and their families. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their sacrifices on our behalf. Keep in mind that less than one percent of Americans are willing to step forward to wear our nation's uniform.
Shopping at a commissary or exchange is a small benefit military families enjoy. And, this directly impacts recruitment and retention. For this reason, I was compelled to communicate directly with the Defense Secretary on the importance of modernizing and providing sustaining funds for our commissaries.
With the "rebalancing" of our military force structure to the Pacific, Hawaii will see increases in the number of troops and families that will be based in Hawaii. I am hopeful that they will be welcomed with open arms and aloha.
The first Hawaii vendor food show was held in 1997. About a dozen Hawaii businesses participated. Today, more than 80 businesses participate, and nearly 2,000 products from our islands have made their way to commissary shelves. Everything from Hawaii coffee and macademia nuts to shoyu and guava juice. Today, 118 local farms grow more than $5 million of fresh fruits and vegetables for our commissaries. Our farmers provide bananas, cabbage, lettuce, watercress, radishes and onions. This produce comes from Oahu, Maui, Molokai and the Big Island. You have developed an ideal partnership that benefits our military members and their families, Hawaii businesses and the local economy. You have developed a national model for others to follow.
These partnerships are the way of the future. I thank you for your willingness to engage. Your presence is testament to the high value of Hawaii products - whether it's coffee, macadamia nuts or aloha wear - we have a lot to offer. Your presence also signals a recognition that Hawaii businesses want to do business with our military commissaries and exchanges here and throughout the Pacific. These partnerships will result in better products and selections for our military and their families. Thank you for your service on behalf of our military community. They deserve the best.