LIHU‘E — On Thursday, the Lihu‘e Business Association hosted a forum, virtually, with four panelists from the Kaua‘i Office of Economic Development discussing current initiatives on agriculture, business, climate and resiliency.
Diana Singh, OED business innovation coordinator, said the Kaua‘i Forward website is a great place for information for business owners and the community.
“In our first initiative through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant, we helped nonprofits with their proposal grants, and we also helped support 650 small businesses through our Small Business Boost grant we had recently, which we all know went quickly,” Singh said.
Singh said the county received $28 million from the federal grant, and allocated $5 million for the Small Business Boost grant program and $2 million for the Rise to Work program. Only about 70% of those funds were used because OED are saving up for other virus-related issues they may face in the future.
As the state prepares to open up for visitors on Oct. 15, the county would like to perform a second test on travelers in addition to the state-mandated pretest. It is holding the extra funds to see what a second test is going to cost and preparing for any trouble it may bring, according to OED Director Nalani Brun.
Singh said the county is hopeful for an additional round of the Small Business Boost federal funding, but it is not yet confirmed.
Rise to Work update
Singh said the Rise to Work program, also funded by the CARES Act grant, is a 12-week program with 80 part-time and full-time employees onboard currently. The program provides each employee with health-care benefits and a competitive salary.
“This program allows our employers to take on new roles and reach out to bring in new employees they may not think to bring on temporarily,” said Singh. “And people want to go back to work and contribute to the community they live in.”
Singh also mentioned the county hired a business mentor in March when it was needed the most. However, the county isn’t taking any appointments for one-on-one mentoring for all small-business owners in need.
“We are excited to work with all businesses,” Singh said. “We will work with more of a collective approach or a broader benefit for the community. We aren’t able to do individual mentoring for all small businesses.”
Shipping costs’ effect on agriculture
A question was raised about Young Brothers and the recent increase of their prices.
“State committee is looking for an initiative to work with Young Brothers for long-term stability and keeping traffic in our ocean (safe),” said Martin Amaro, ODX agriculture specialist. “It’s a hot point with our agriculture producers because of the costs farmers are generally facing. Right now we are waiting on our state partners to give us a better view.
“Letting the state take the lead yet provide them information from our ag producers as they need. We can just move alongside the state as we are already doing. We are aware of the situation and we are trying to get ahead of it,” said Amaro.
Amaro said the CARES Act provided seven grants for ag producers across the island for food production, training for ag sectors in food safety, allowing them to sell in larger markets, or take advantage of large U.S. Department of Agriculture grants.
“We have had 40 ag inspectors or instructors in food safety,” said Amaro. “And we are looking for data on all of our ranchers and farmers to get a better understanding of where our food resources come from and help get some state grants to the farmers.
“Our ag producers island-wide experience loss due to ag theft. There was about $620,000 in losses reported. We are working with Kaua‘i Farm Bureau and Kekaha Agricultural Association to find out what the losses are,” said Amaro.
Amaro was asked by a viewer if the county would support agriculture producers with exporting their products outside of the island and state.
“The ag-safety programs would put farmers and ranchers (in) the position to take their business off-island,” Amaro said.
All ideas welcome
Brun concluded by saying the county is putting more effort into workforce support by helping the unemployed get training or get a job, and she encourages the community to reach out to the county if they have an idea.
“Please don’t just hold back your ideas. We are willing to hear new ideas,” Brun said. “Collectively, as an island, we got great ideas and great efforts. We can’t come up with just the ideas from our own heads.”
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.