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Vital Action Needed to Make Hawaii More Business Friendly

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Whether community, business, and political leaders want to admit it or not, Hawaii is about to undergo a dramatic change over the next few years in all aspects of life, from social to political to the economic base of the island state.
With the exception of a couple of plantations on Kauai and Maui, the sugar and pineapple industries are fond memories. The visitor industry will continue to provide the bulk of the economic wealth for the state albeit marginal in growth. But what is more frightening is the fact that the face of the islands has begun to take on a new shape.
The signs are very apparent that change is in the wind. Few, if any of the larger companies are locally owned. In the visitor industry there are perhaps one or two major hotels that are still controlled locally. By and large, the chain hotels are run by a general manager who has been recently transferred to Hawaii, but the final decisions are being made in Chicago, New York or Tokyo. The more recent arrivals, the Big Box stores are even more distant from what is happening in the islands. They seem to have little interest or stake in the community.
As a result, decisions which affect Hawaii and its people are being made by those far removed from the community. What is even more disturbing is that these new players have very little interest in government in Hawaii and opine that if conditions warrant that a profit cannot be made in Hawaii, all they have to do is to pull up stakes and move out of the state as they have done elsewhere on the mainland.
The problem with that outlook is that there is no one to speak on behalf of the community. So lawmakers go about enacting laws that they believe will benefit the community without further input from those who are asked to produce the revenues and jobs for Hawaii’s people. For example, state lawmakers are deluded into believing that high technology is the answer for Hawaii’s future. Tax incentives have been adopted in the hope that the financial carrot will lure those high technology companies to Hawaii while those who are already here are deluded into believing that the new legislation will apply to their activities – when it will not.
Those outside the state chuckle at Hawaii’s efforts, knowing that it will take more than some loose bag of tax incentives to establish a vibrant high technology industry in Hawaii. In the meantime, other opportunities are passing up the state because the business climate continues to be unfriendly.
Unfriendly you say? Why state officials point to their one-stop shop where new businesses supposedly gather all the applications they need to secure the permits and licenses needed to start up a business in Hawaii. What they don’t point out is that it is located in a strip mall on the way to the airport in Honolulu on Nimitz Highway. There is very little if any “free” parking and the office is located on the second floor of this innocuous, out of the way building. The center is also difficult to reach by public transportation.
Meanwhile, different departments both at the state and county levels seek new sources of revenue to keep their budgets balanced. Unfortunately this has meant a spate of new fees and user charges, all of which add to the cost of doing business in Hawaii. So is it any wonder why it is so difficult to be an entrepreneur in Hawaii? Small businesses that don’t have the resources for these additional fees and costly requirements find it especially difficult to set up a business in Hawaii.
Thus is it any wonder that the plethora of new businesses in Hawaii that survive tend to be those which are large enough and have the financial resources to carry themselves during the start-up period?
If Hawaii is to remain some place where businesses have a stake or investment in the community, then it must begin to make it easier and more profitable to set up a business in Hawaii. This not only means reducing the heavy burden off taxes Hawaii families and companies pay, but also streamlining the regulatory and permitting processes imposed by all levels of government.
What is truly ironic is that the very people who impose all of these suffocating rules and regulations on business are the first to have their hands out for contributions from these very businesses. What elected officials don’t realize is the more they put people out of business, the less jobs we have for our people and the less money there is to give elected officials and their “causes.”

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