Editor’s Note: Everything’s changed…

January, 2009

As Hawaii enters 2009, there is no other way to describe the field before us.

This lesson was driven home at a recent Honolulu dinner sponsored by the University of Hawaii’s Shidler College of Business that featured a talk by Silicon Valley venture capitalist and best-selling writer Richard A. Moran. Moran, author of such books as “Never Confuse a Memo With Reality,” sees humor in the most daunting business situation. There’s room for laughter today, Moran said, but in a very different economic and political climate.

“I think it’s time for high drama,” he told his audience. “It’s an opportune time to try different things, make big changes. It’s not going to go back to the way it was, even two years ago.”

It’s a lesson local businesses should learn well. Just about everything we thought we knew about how to get money, how to spend it and how to invest it has been turned upside down. Smart business leaders will forget the past and look for new ways to keep their enterprise flourishing and growing.

Nowhere is this more sharply felt than in our visitor industry. As much as Americans love to travel, vacations remain a discretionary expense. Right now, people from California to Japan are making decisions about where — if at all — they will go this year and next and how they will spend their money.

What’s a smart formula to convince travelers the best place to spend their money is Hawaii, and the right time is now?

Longstanding assumptions about the way we fuel our lives have changed as well. There are basic shifts underway in the world energy economy. In oil-dependent Hawaii, this is achingly important. This is an opportunity: Hawaii has a shot at showing the world how to deal with the inevitable day when the seemingly endless supply of fossil fuel dries up.

Can we find new ways to power our economy?

And, of course, everything has changed politically. The election of Hawaii-born Barack Obama is nothing less than a sea change in the national political landscape. This demands fresh and flexible thinking from anyone touched by the globalized economy.

Locally, the Hawaii Legislature convenes this month for a session destined to focus on cutting programs, services and entitlements. Standing expectations about what government can or will do to support business must be completely rethought.

That rethinking process was given a kick start in early December when a high-powered group of leaders from business, labor and the non-profit sector, propelled by a sense of “urgency,” convened a summit with Gov. Linda Lingle, the four county mayors, congressional representatives and others to launch the Hawaii Economic Stabilization Initiative, a jobs-focused effort designed to steady the Hawaiian economy over the next year to 18 months.

Exciting times, to be sure, but difficult as well. The future belongs to those who accept that change has come and are willing to deal with this new reality. Change is always unsettling, but opens vast new opportunities for those who embrace it.

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Jerry Burris