A Vision for Post-COVID Kona, Hawaii

It’s now August 2020, and we’re in the midst of the 2020 COVID epidemic. Travel to and within Hawaii is restricted due to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which means travel and tourism are basically shut down. This, of course, has decimated our economy and created what most estimate to be a 20% unemployment rate in Kona, and probably the loss of up to 20% of businesses, shut down, gone forever.

I do not deny the seriousness of the epidemic, so this post is focused on what is to come next after the pandemic has become under control, when there is a vaccine or a treatment that greatly reduces deaths and negative health outcomes. Most say this will be next year.

Here’s what I’d like to see as a business owner in Kona, Hawaii post-COVID

  1. County and State Leaders going “all-in” to promote Hawaii for tourism. Like it or not, money coming from tourists is, and will be, the lifeblood of our local economies. Spend whatever it takes to promote Hawaii to fill our resorts, hotels, and privately-owned vacation rentals. Sure, we love to hate tourists, but this is the only way to get our people back to work and fill the governments’ coffers with taxes. We desperately need both.
  2. Clean up downtown Kona. I’ve witnessed the area in the past twenty years slowly deteriorate so that it is now a place that people no longer want to visit. The property owners need to be incentivized to renovate and clean up their properties. The County needs to seriously address the vagrants, beggars, and homeless situation in that area. They also need to address the lack of adequate parking in downtown Kailua Village. 
  3. The rule of law needs to be upheld. The anti-TMT people have a right to protest, but they do not have a right to block access to a legally permitted project. We can have protest–I’m fine with that–but those protests cannot break the law and restrict others from exercising their legal rights.
  4. The County and State need to be better advocates for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Keeping money on the islands through the support of locally-owned businesses can be a driver of a better standard of living for all. The big-box stores, the off-island owned hotels and resorts and the shipping and transportation companies seem to have the ear of the Legislature, Governor and Mayors; it’s time that our leaders focus on things that actually keep revenue and profits in the community.
  5. More support and better infrastructure for teleworkers and teleworking. We need to get out of the way (that’s you, Hawaii County Council) for 5G infrastructure on the Big Island. We currently have one fast internet provider–Spectrum–for most areas of the island, including most residential areas. It’s clear that Hawaiian Telcom is underfunded and not incentivized to get fast broadband to residential areas. We desperately need to have a carrot and a stick approach to connect our island residents and businesses to the world with faster Internet.
  6. We need to protect our local brands, namely 100% Kona Coffee. A truth in labeling law needs to passed at the State level. It’s ok to blend Kona and non-Kona coffee, as not all coffee is not suitable quality for 100% Kona Coffee sales, but, if mixed, the true percentage of Kona, as well as the true percentage of the origin of the other coffees need to be on the label. “Kona” should not be the biggest location name on the label if it is not the largest origin of the contents.
  7. We need to facilitate agro-tourism and keep tourism money on the island by allowing ag dwellings to be used as vacation rentals.
  8. Better workforce development. We need to have better connections between the secondary schools and our trades and other industries. We have to get over the idea of a general education being the standard for everyone and consider more of the German model, which allows students to graduate from high school with real-world job opportunities and needed skills.
  9. Break the monopolies over inter-island and intra-USA shipping, which costs Hawaii residents, businesses, and the government dearly by having a statewide effort to repeal or reform the Jones Act.
  10. Develop customer service directives for all levels of government, especially services that directly deal with commerce and taxpayers. For example, if a permit is not approved within 30 days, it receives automatic approval. The wait time at the DMV should never be more than 1.5 hours. Potholes should be fixed within a day. The new County of Hawaii mayor needs to provide the resources, training, and guidance to focus government services on people and the economy. No excuses. Make it happen.