By Mayor Derek Kawakami

Mayor Derek Kawakami

When people hear the term “Men in Business,” there is almost an expectation to envision a strong, stoic, brave leader in a crisp Aloha shirt or dark navy suit. But the imagery that comes to my mind is how I remember my dad. Especially those times when the going got tough and when he was out of view from the public, at home, in his regular puka T-shirt and the pair of shorts that my mom was constantly trying to get rid of that magically made its way back into his drawer. I think of the late nights, the phone calls, the conversations on the phone, the discussions with my mom. Although there was a concerned look on his face, he always made us believe that things would end up being OK. That the island, that the company, that our people would find a way. I was able to see a businessman in his most vulnerable state yet driven by optimism, hope, and faith.

Through all of the natural disasters Kaua‘i has faced, our business community has always been resilient. That quiet courage that I remember in my dad is the same courage that I see in so many of our business leaders today that are facing a challenge of historical magnitude that this world has not seen in over a century.

We are forever grateful for our business and community leaders who were forced to adapt during this pandemic. They balance their employees’ and customers’ well-being while making the hard decisions to keep afloat. I have been inspired by the many businesses that have made tremendous sacrifices for the betterment and safety of the community that they serve. The selfless acts of generosity, the compassionate hands helping others get through tough times, the ability to adapt, pivot, and fight to survive have been an inspiration and a driving force for many – myself included. During a time where the world is searching for a beacon of hope, I believe that the spirit of our people, the bravery of our business community, the resilience of our island does indeed shine a light for the rest of the state and perhaps the nation can look to in their darkest hour.

As a government, we are leveraging federal grants to fund our small businesses. With the County’s share of CARES funding, we provided $6.4 million in business support grants. I am proud of the project most dear to my heart, our Rise to Work Program, investing over $4.35 million. Through this program, we got 280 people employed. With funding through Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg’s generous support to the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, we expanded the program, which will now support up to 400 workers and 200 employers.

Additionally, with CARES funding, we distributed to following into our economy:

  • Over $1.3 million into our community for Food Support Services grants to feed those in need
  • Over $1.25 million to support childcare efforts
  • Nearly $1.2 million to mental health and domestic violence support services
  • $6.4 million in a program providing business support grants;
  • – $2.9 million into agricultural assistance grants;
  • And over $2 million in economic diversification grants to start to help us change our economic destiny.

Partnering with the Kaua‘i District Health Office, Kaua‘i Hospitals, and the many volunteers, we have administered more than 35,000 vaccinations as of March 19. We are hopeful that our efforts have built the capacity to keep our residents, essential workers, small businesses, and visitors safe come April 5 when Kaua‘i reenters the transpacific Safe Travels Program. With that, we look forward to our economy bouncing back and for our small businesses to once again flourish.

As we take some time out of our busy schedule to honor our men in business, I would also like to take the time to thank them for their courage, for their compassion, and for the hope that they give this community that brings people together to overcome some of the biggest challenges that we have had to face.

For our men in business, our business community, and to our residents and visitors: you give me hope, you give me energy, and I know that we can and we will get through this together. Mahalo and Aloha.