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Business owners, your vote counts

During the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in a number of local events — the list includes attending the “Island Night” performance of the Kaua‘i Music Festival, Uncle Manea’s Heiva, and several Chamber of Commerce events focused on our economy and politics.

The Small Business Development Center has hosted a successful George Darby Workshop on Music, Video, and Software Agreements, the second quarterly Women In Business Roundtable meeting with a presentation on balancing life and work, and our routine workshops about starting and enhancing small businesses. I was also privileged to share a relaxing day at the beach with my husband and one of our island’s precious monk seals — B25, a 10-month-old female who has had a very adventurous life so far! A story for another time, perhaps.

As I enjoyed these events, though, there was often an undercurrent of worry expressed by business owners and residents about what is happening to our economy, our home and our community. The nightly TV news reports are filled with depressing information about layoffs, natural disasters and the high cost gas and food. And our own local news is increasingly reporting business closures, increasing crime and violent acts — heretofore seen primarily on the Mainland.

What does it all mean? Where are we going?

Well, I have a dream of what the future holds, and I would like to share that dream with you. In the future I see small businesses thriving. Music and the arts have indeed become one of our primary economic industries. We have the raw talent — I’ve seen it when attending the recent Kaua‘i Music Festival and the Heiva — as well as many other island activities. I also see agriculture assuming its rightful role in our economy and community as the many small and backyard farmers utilize a cooperative structure to bring their produce to market.

I see the agriculture community making use of technological advances (both organic and manmade) to assist with crop production and virus/fungus protection. I see tourism as a supportive component of our community and its goals to protect our precious environment. With a growing focus on eco-tourism and a partnership effort to eliminate invasive species harm to our environment, tourists who come to Kaua‘i to see and experience its beauty will find it here for them. Our residents will also find that beauty here for their use and pleasure.

I see a community that utilizes alternative energy resources to the max and are focused on the unique difficulties of being an island and aware of and addressing limited resources. I see a community in which keiki education is the cornerstone of success — an education system focused on meeting the needs of the student and using different tools to communicate and teach. I see a community with many deeply embedded and treasured cultures, all blending together in harmony. I see a community in which the residents can afford homes and keiki have a future here on island.

Is it only a dream, or reality waiting to happen? We are quickly approaching the election season. Our mayoral election is coming up in September, with our local, state and presidential elections to follow in November. If you care about the future, and share my dream or have one of your own, you must learn as much as you can about the candidates and vote your conscience and heart.

In 2006, our last general election, only 68 percent of Kaua‘i’s eligible voting population registered to vote. Of those registered, only 53 percent voted, meaning our elected officials were elected by only one-third of Kaua‘i’s eligible voters.

As a small business owner, as a community member, it is important to make your voice heard through your vote.

But it does not stop there. Beyond the vote, we each have a responsibility to work together to shape the future of our community. It is clear that government cannot do it all, and in some cases, is not the best vehicle to address local concerns.

Want some concrete examples? If you own a business now, have you researched and planned for conversion to alternative energy sources? If you have a backyard garden, have you searched out other backyard gardeners to hui and develop a cooperative? If you have knowledge or experience in science or math, or are a business that has employees skilled in these areas, have you volunteered at your neighborhood school or developed a mentor program? When you go to the beach, do you take your rubbish home with you, or maybe even pick up rubbish at the beach that has washed in?

We are all busy, but with responsibility and leadership we can make our dreams our reality.

• Diana Shaw is director of the Small Business Development Center Kaua‘i Office.

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