Businesses resourceful in face of adversity

Moments after hearing of the abrupt closure of Aloha Airlines’ cargo operation, Mayor Bryan Baptiste called me into his office and asked our staff to determine who in the business community would be severely impacted and how we could help.

Phone calls were made and messages left with businesses we knew to be doing a significant amount of transport with Aloha. Surprisingly, many calls were unreturned or, if they were, we were told that alternate plans had already been made or were in the works. We heard from no one who was panicking and asking for help.

It was a reminder to me that our business community is incredibly resilient and resourceful. Reading the paper on a daily basis, and listening to commentary on radio, TV and at public meetings had led me to believe that the general public expects government to “fix” just about everything that goes awry. Not so — at least in my recent experiences with our business community. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true: The private sector has the smarts, the resources and the passion to make good things happen in spite of most natural and man-made disasters.

You would think that in the midst of an uncertain economy and global turbulence the natural reaction would be to hold back — be a little conservative until things level off. On Kaua‘i, we’re seeing just the opposite.

Consider the following:

• In its 30th year, the Kaua‘i Visitor Industry Charity Walk, sponsored by the Hawai‘i Hotel and Lodging Association’s Kaua‘i Chapter, not only beat last year’s fundraising mark of $180,000 — it literally smashed it by raising more than $200,000.

Kaua‘i had more walkers than Maui and Big Island and raised more than twice the amount per walker as O‘ahu. The money collected through this event comes primarily from employees of the visitor industry and their family and friends, and every penny will directly benefit Kaua‘i’s nonprofits and charities at a time when it is desperately needed.

• The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa recently received permitting approvals to install an 18,500-square-foot photovoltaic system on top of a parking lot roof structure. Once installation is complete, the multi-million dollar system will provide 438,000 kilowatt hours of power annually, will reduce CO2 emissions by more than 237,000 tons and will avoid the use of 7,000 barrels of petroleum each year.

To put it in perspective, this system will generate enough electricity to power 300 homes. Hyatt is making an investment not only in its economic future, but also in the future of our island’s precious natural resources.

• Roughly a dozen Kaua‘i residents recently completed their teaching degrees right here on the Garden Island, thanks in part to the generosity of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay. The “Growing Our Own Teachers” program, offered by the University of Hawai‘i, allows Neighbor Island residents to complete their final two years on their home island.

In order to earn their degree, the teacher candidates must complete a full-time, non-paid student teaching assignment and, at the elementary level, they are prohibited from holding another job during that semester.

That’s where the Rotarians came in. They raised more than $54,000 and offered scholarships to the elementary teacher candidates so that they could afford to stick with the program to graduation. I had the pleasure of attending a celebratory luncheon for these new teachers, and many of them literally could not have finished without the financial assistance offered by the Hanalei Rotarians.

While in times of crisis and uncertainty we can and should look to government for leadership and assistance, the lesson I’ve learned recently is we shouldn’t stop there. All around us we have incredible examples of the greatest power that can be marshaled in any circumstance: human ingenuity, perseverance, personal sacrifice and a willingness to “do the right thing.”

• Beth Tokioka is director of Kaua‘i County’s Office of Economic Development. She can be reached at btokioka@kauai.gov

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