Safe, speedy reopening of economy is chamber’s goal

In January, as the new chair of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, I came into the role anticipating a year of opportunity and growth for our member businesses.

Kaua‘i’s economy was booming. We were planning on a year of continued record-breaking growth in chamber membership: we had about 100 new members join in 2019 alone. I was prepared for a year of attending numerous grand openings and blessings, great business after hour networking events with local business hosts and sold out general membership meetings. Person-to-person events are what makes the Kaua‘i community thrive.

Then COVID-19 swept across Kaua‘i, the nation and the globe. Businesses were shut down by government mandate. Others were allowed to operate, but for many their customers rapidly dwindled and disappeared. Essential vs. non-essential became the big distinction. Work-at-home became the norm. Instantly we became wholly reliant on technology. Schools closed, and families, friends and associates were separated with no real answers to the invader we were facing and an unknown timeline to “normality.”

Now, seven months into this crisis, almost 40% of our local businesses report they will close permanently by early next year without some drastic changes. Given the uncertain economic future, many businesses had to cut expenses drastically, and membership in the chamber was ripe for the chopping block.

Many nonprofit funding sources dwindled to a trickle as money was needed for the basic needs of our community. Normally Kaua‘i is the most giving community in the state, but the uncertainties forced many to hold on to what they did have in their accounts.

This is all understandable. The emerging battle cry to serve our community and survive was the need to “pivot.” The chamber’s role in this new environment, given our previous focus on networking and in-person events, was no exception.

However, the chamber’s overall value to the business community had never been more apparent to me, the staff and our board. Offering resources and providing advocacy are central to the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce’s mission, and I’m proud to say we do it well.

From the start, standing by the side of Mayor Kawakami, the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce became the go-to resource for the business community.

We have had numerous meetings and conversations with the governor, mayor and other elected officials, advocating for a safe-but-speedy reopening of Hawai‘i’s economy. We surveyed our members to better understand their circumstances so we can best address the critical issues facing our island. We fought for more transparency and better processes for unemployment insurance claims. We helped craft the county’s CARES (federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act strategy, which has assisted hundreds of small local businesses.

We expanded our social-media platforms to better promote businesses. We launched our Member Connect webinars on topics ranging from applying for business loan programs to managing a remote workforce. We oversaw the launch of the online “Aloha for Kaua‘i” campaign to drum up support for local restaurants across the island.

Our “Take-Out Tuesdays” promotion helped keep local businesses open, along with the food-provider map we spearheaded with the County of Kaua‘i. From “Mask Mondays” to “Fitness Fridays” we encouraged everyone to stay healthy and focused during this unprecedented time.

No matter the challenges of the day, the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce will continue to succeed and will continue to generate the highest value and return on investment for our members and the Kaua‘i community.

As our economy begins to recover and businesses look for ways to innovate, I encourage you to join and be part of the collective voice of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce. We need everyone at the table — properly social distanced, of course — to best shape our commerce landscape for resilience and prosperity, with the safety of our community first and foremost.

•••

Michelle Emura is Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce chair and marketing specialist for Aqua Engineers, based in Lawa‘i.

4 Comments
  1. numilalocal September 27, 2020 12:52 pm Reply

    The only thing that will really drive any reopening is the virus itself and our collective response to it. Neither economics nor politics will determine how and when things restart.


  2. Jamie Dolphin September 27, 2020 1:47 pm Reply

    Mahalo Michelle,
    What a great balanced outlook, I hope that all of the diverse groups can work together for a happy and safe reopening. I miss Kauai and want to return. If I have to pay extra to insure the safety of the people of Kauai, it is a small price to pay for the people I love.


  3. EatMoreMusubi September 27, 2020 8:07 pm Reply

    COVID-19 swept across Kauai? When? I think you mean mass hysteria swept across the island.


  4. james September 29, 2020 7:04 am Reply

    This letter reads more like you are giving kudos to yourself and the Chamber for whatever is you feel like you have done during the pandemic. However, you don’t address the title of your letter, ie, how to safely and speedily open Kauai. What are your ideas on how to accomplish that goal? Why don’t you address testing and the return of tourists? Does the Chamber have a position on the 72 hour negative testing plan? I kept waiting for you to address the issue of how to re-open Kauai but never found it. I only found a plea for all businesses to join the Chamber.


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