Baptiste reshuffles Office of Economic Development

On Friday, Mayor Bryan Baptiste listened. Yesterday, he acted, re-naming a department so new it’s not even an official county agency yet.

In response to various concerns expressed at the meeting Baptiste called with business and nonprofit leaders at the new county Civil Defense headquarters last week, on Monday he said the county’s Office of Economic Development (OED) will be under the umbrella of a new Department of Community Response and Development.

“We’re making adjustments within the county to conform with my goal to support the community,” said Baptiste.

“Businesses are an integral part of the community, and we’re going to take a holistic approach toward supporting every facet of each community,” he said.

The decision to create the new department within the county is one result of Friday’s meeting.

The economic-development community voiced a need for some oversight of OED, Baptiste said. They also seemed to agree that the people currently heading divisions within OED were quite capable, and should be empowered to be the best they can be, he added.

“Change is never easy, but it is needed to cause greater efficiencies in governmental operations,” said Baptiste. “We’re in the infant stages of setting up a government that is responsive to the community.”

Baptiste earlier named Vida Mossman to head up new county Offices of Community Response. Monday, he announced an intent to make the offices a department, with Mossman a cabinet-level department head.

She said yesterday she will not hire an OED director, but will act in that capacity. The county is seeking to hire a public information officer, a position Mossman continues to fill temporarily.

Visitor-industry officials yesterday had only good things to say about Mossman, Baptiste, and Friday’s meeting.

“As anyone knows in operations, it’s always good to surround yourself with good people,” said Ray Blouin, general manager of Hanalei Bay Resort hotel at Princeville, who attended the meeting as president of the Hawaii Hotel Association Kaua’i chapter.

“From my experiences on the Westside of Kaua’i, she’s an outstanding person to work with when it came to business relationships with PMRF. She’s an excellent person,” he said.

“I thought it was an excellent meeting,” said Blouin.

“I certainly appreciated on behalf of the Hawaii Hotel Association Kaua’i chapter Mayor Baptiste’s offer to gather various individuals from the private sector and the nonprofit associations like the Hawaii Hotel Association, to solicit their thoughts on our industry and how government has worked with our industry in the past, and how we can continue to work together and perhaps improve relationships, specifically governmental relationships,” Blouin said.

“He also challenged all of us to think outside the typical box to come up with various ideas about how economic development can progress, and come up with some ideas on various job opportunities that the people of Kaua’i hopefully will benefit from,” said Blouin.

“He’s very solution-based. His responses to the few concerns we did have in the last couple weeks” were very positive, “and gave us a very good idea of how he intends to manage the county and successfully accomplish good, solid foundations for the island of Kaua’i,” Blouin continued.

“I think Mayor Baptiste knows very clearly his various strengths, and this was a way for him to hear from the different types of industry on the island, what the industry thinks is strong in government, and I think it gave him a clear idea as to what we as an island will need to work on together,” said Blouin. “And I think that was a very good message.

“To see the Mayor help facilitate a meeting where we could all sit together at the same table and work together on the economy and on the financial and economic health of Kaua’i is really a positive thing.”

“It was really nice to see that he is really open to suggestions and thoughts from the various industry representatives,” Blouin added. “I can’t say enough about it. I think he’s really on the right track.”

An OED director is needed, said Margy Parker, executive director of the Poipu Beach Resort Association, and Mamo Cummings, president of the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce.

“After Friday’s meeting, I came away that, yes, because the issues are so broad,” an OED director is needed, said Parker. “I think this county will have greater success in economic development if there’s one person who is making sure everything is coordinating off each other.”

For example, a coordinator would make sure the visitor industry buys products of local agriculture, that real estate businesspeople buy into Baptiste’s long-term vision for Kaua’i, that the energy industry is moving toward making the island more energy self-sufficient, and that high-technology and other industries work together to create job growth, Parker said.

“I think we do need one person whose job is to make sure that each industry is evolving, and with a coordinated plan,” she said.

Cummings, who worked in OED before joining the Chamber, also worked closely after she joined the Chamber with former OED Director Gini Kapali, on coordinating Kaua’i visits of speakers on topics like export, establishment of enterprise zones on Kaua’i, and other topics of interest to small local businesses.

Having a “figurehead that draws that kind of authority and attention is needed. They need to talk peer-to-peer” with similar governmental economic-development heads across the state, said Cummings.

Someone within county government focusing solely on economic-development initiatives and concerns is necessary for accountability for correct use of federal funds, as are involved in the Workforce Development program in OED, said Cummings.

Chamber members need to know Baptiste’s and the county’s role in privatization efforts, because small businesses are “always interested in privatization opportunities,” Cummings said.

Further, since the Chamber spends considerable time, effort and staff and volunteer resources lobbying before the state Legislature, its membership also wants to know the county’s legislative priorities, and whether or not “a more unified voice” will be heard from Kaua’i before the Legislature, she commented.

“Agriculture will need to be a primary focus,” Cummings noted.

“For me, it was a learning experience, to hear about the issues all across the economic development board, to hear what the farmers, finance people, real estate people, and small business, nonprofits, and tourism had to say,” said Parker.

“Our issues were for the county to continue the promotions that they’ve been doing, because they do such an outstanding job,” Parker said.

“The primary thrust among the visitor-industry people was for the county to continue with their major travel promotions, because they’re not only excellent, but they’re marrying different products.

“They marry agriculture with visitor product and go out and make a huge statement on the Mainland. It’s terrific,” Parker said.

“Hearing from all the other economic-development sectors, it was quite interesting, and it really drives home the need for us all to benefit each others’ industries, to integrate our economic-development plans,” said Parker.

“I went away from the meeting thinking about solutions, which is what the Mayor challenged us to do,” she said.

“The other big topic was infrastructure, on the visitor-industry side, anyway, dealing with traffic and park cleanliness and signage and things like that, and how best to tackle those issues,” she continued.

“I thought that Mayor Baptiste was right on in bringing the diverse industries together into one room.” Usually, visitor-industry people get together and talk about the future of tourism, or the real estate people will bring their views to the county, or the tech people will bring their views to the county.

“I thought it was brilliant to bring everyone together in the same room and have all of us hear each others’ issues. I thought that was excellent,” Parker said.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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