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State of Repair - Extended Version

6 Leaders Discuss Power & How to Fix Hawaii

(page 5 of 8)

Matsumoto: Well, take Meadow Gold – Glenn Muranaka (president of Meadow Gold Dairies). They’re a subsidiary of a multinational company, but Glenn is very committed to the local communities. They provide a lot of support to sports teams and youth organizations. I think it’s because they have local management that has the discretion and authority to make those kinds of decisions. You look at a lot of the other players, they only have managers, they don’t have people in executive positions who can make those kinds of decisions.

Burris: Someone made a point the other day that whoever runs Costco here is probably a very bright person, but he or she is only responsive to Costco – back in Seattle.

Cayetano: But Costco takes good care of its employees. They have a turnover rate, according to what I read in Fortune magazine, of about 2 percent, which is the lowest in retail, and they provide benefits. If a company does that, you know most of the workers in that company, are going to be there, and if you are fair to your workers, that’s all you can ask of any company.

Burris: Unless, of course, the top executive for Costco in Hawaii sits on the Chamber of Commerce board.

Cayetano: I don’t even know who it is.

Matsumoto: See, that’s the problem. I don’t agree with you that even though they treat their employees well and they’re a well-run organization, that’s enough. To me, that’s what distinguishes a local company from one that’s not so-called local. Local companies are led by management that have the understanding that their role, with respect to the company, is not just to make a profit, but also to improve the community they live in. As a result, they conduct their business and they conduct themselves in a manner that allows that. It’s because they’re a part of the community. They care about the community. This isn’t just a place to make money. So because of that, it’s not just about donating. It’s about participating, volunteering, providing leadership.

Cayetano: Let’s take Meadow Gold. They certainly weren’t acting in the interest of the local people when they faced the Heptachlor crisis. It took a guy from the Mainland to come over here and tell the local guys to cooperate with the state and get everything straight. The two people that were running the place, one retired and the other got shipped off to Idaho someplace. But you know, Meadow Gold does a lot of good things, but it’s in the interest of them to do those things, too.

Burris: So, do you just have to wait and hope that enlightened people like Target will come in or is there some way this community can simulate that type of leadership?

Lagareta: If we had good leadership, we could find the Targets and tell them we want them here. We’d find those companies, although they’re not all willing to come here, but we also don’t make it easy.

Ho: I think the lens needs to change. We talk about Mainland companies that don’t give as much as local companies, and so forth. While that’s true, when you add up all of those dollars, in the end, it’s not that much money. You can argue whether having local management is better or not – and you’ll get some mixed results – but I think the real issue is once we lost our business community being local, what we really lost was strategic control of the business community. So now we find ourselves in a very different situation. Now it’s not call Walter Dillingham and get together with [David] Trask and get this thing done, now it’s who out there in the world do we need to attract in to create jobs, create capital, to make the economy work, and in my own view, we’re not there yet.

Cayetano: A part of it, you take the developers, it takes a long time to get things done here, and it’s true. If you want to get a permit, it takes a long time. If you want to get things done quickly, go to Houston. You don’t need so many permits in order to have a service station next to a $5 million home, but from the competing side and the part that makes it difficult, is that in the ’70s if you folks remember, development was going so strong that there was a reaction that people that were concerned about environmental resources and things like that, and that’s why some of the land use stuff that was put in place earlier by people like Gill, who probably saw this coming. It does make it make it difficult for developers to get things done as quickly as on the Mainland. But to me, that’s the cost of living in Hawaii. There are things we can do to change things. I think if you left it up to the business community today and asked them, “What do you want us to get rid of?” the first thing they’d say is the pre-paid health plan. That’s the biggest cost.

Lagareta: Some would say the Legislature first (everyone laughs).

Cayetano: See, I think if you come here to do business, you have to understand that the government, elected by the people, wants a pre-paid health plan for the people. These people that come in from the Mainland, they have a hard time dealing with that kind of stuff.

Apoliona: It kind of speaks to the whole, the over-arching idea of “So what do you want Hawaii to be like?” What the governor is saying, what Colbert is saying, it all interconnects. People giving back to the community, what does that mean? What is the quality of life in Hawaii going to be? To create this balance, that’s what at issue here, and how do we balance it for the future? The spirituality of this place – what is it that we want Hawaii to be? And in that process of trying to balance it out, we’ll likely not go one stream or the other, and that’s the challenge. That’s the tension.

Lagareta: I don’t object to the fact that it takes time to get things done. I wish there was some type of development master plan somewhere because we still have service stations and fast-food restaurants next to our houses, but I think we could do better on the process. The rules change too arbitrarily and I think people in business can live with the rules if they know what the rules are. I think the upside and downside of the grassroots voice that’s become stronger is that everything gets taken to the judiciary and court these days and we don’t seek out another mechanism. You think you’re following the rules and then somebody takes you to court and things keep changing. I think that’s an issue in terms of attracting business.

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