KAILUA-KONA — For the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, a strong workforce is an educated workforce.
It’s why supporting the local Hawaii Community College — Palamanui is among the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s big legislative priorities for the upcoming session.
“The idea would be that it would help to strengthen the economy — economic prosperity, increase the quality of life,” said Wendy Laros, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce executive director.
If a person has an education and training, she said, that would ideally translate to getting a good job and making efforts to contribute to the community and make it a better place.
“Education is key,” she said.
The chamber’s West Hawaii legislative priorities cover a wide range of issues from supporting consistent economic drivers like ocean recreation tourism and agriculture to advocating for the airport that gets people here and roads that help them move around.
It also includes the college, which Laros said has been a top priority for the Chamber for years, citing its position as a university center for the University of Hawaii.
“And what that means is it’s not just a community college with community college courses,” she said, “it’s the access to the UH system.”
She said the Chamber works with local representatives and if there are legislative proposals aligned with supporting the college, “then we will do whatever it takes — write the letters, if there’s any testimony that needs to be given, spread the word with our members.”
Opening day of the upcoming session is today, which Laros plans to attend.
Aside from just vocally supporting local higher education, the Chamber of Commerce has also been at work putting its own efforts into exploring the needs of local industry and businesses.
As part of a recent workforce needs assessment undertaken by the Chamber’s Education and Workforce Development Committee, the group surveyed more than 450 Chamber members about their hiring patterns and what skills and degrees or credentials they required of their employees to be successful workers.
In addition to identifying customer service and communication among the top skills employers looked for in potential employees, 43 percent of respondents said they required some sort of credentials, like a certification or college degree.
And when more than 80 business and education leaders came together in August 2016 at a forum sponsored by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce to talk about growing the workforce, the top two responses to the question “How can we grow our West Hawaii workforce?” were internships and business/education partnerships.
Thatcher Moats, external affairs coordinator at Hawaii Community College, said the college and Chamber have always had a strong, collaborative relationship, going back to the West Hawaii campus’s construction.
“We’re grateful to have that connection to the community,” he said.
The Chamber, he said, is a great conduit to connecting the college with the West Hawaii business community, allowing the institution to develop new programs and keep existing ones relevant.
“And if we’re doing that,” he said, “then we’re going to be successful.”
It also means individuals and families benefit from having the tools needed to succeed, while businesses have a strong crop of potential hires.
Laros added that the Chamber of Commerce is also partnering with West Hawaii Today for an upcoming Career Expo, slated for April and is also planning to launch a pilot program in the fall called the Alaka‘i Education Program to be delivered at the college, she said.
The program will focus on offering professional development and leadership training for people in the West Hawaii business community.
The program, she said, “is ideal for staff members who are transitioning to supervisory or management positions.”
Supporting education isn’t the only legislative priority for the Chamber.
The Chamber is also supporting other infrastructure projects, such as the development of a new state hospital in the area and “expanded health care options.”
Like education, Laros said health care too has long been one of their priorities, adding that a new hospital would create jobs through both its construction and operation.
The Chamber’s not alone in supporting the new hospital. Sen. Josh Green, (D-Kona, Ka‘u), and Rep. Richard Creagan, (D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona), have both been vocal supporters of a new hospital.
The Chamber also highlighted roads and infrastructure as another priority, particularly identifying objectives like the completion of the last phase of Ane Keohokalole Highway from Hina Lani Street to Kaiminani Drive.
The Chamber’s priority listing for roads and infrastructure also indicates support for the extension of Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway, to Queen Kaahumanu Highway and requests safety improvements along Queen Kaahumanu Highway.