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County Talks Economic Opportunities on Molokai

Molokai’s entrepreneurs, inventors and creative thinkers sat down with Maui County officials last Thursday to brainstorm new ways the county can improve economic development on the island. Ten representatives from the Maui County Office of Economic Development (OED) flew to Molokai for an all-day session to talk story about diverse resources available to local businesses and how staff can better serve the community.

“There are resources we have available through the county that you may not be aware of,” Jennifer Hawkins, event organizer and small business specialist at the OED’s Kuha`o Business Center, told Molokai participants. “So I just want to connect you and let you become familiar with some of our specialists…and to make sure that when you connect with them you don’t lose that connection.”

The OED, part of the mayor’s office, is made up of 12 representatives and specialists appointed by the mayor. Their mission, states the OED webpage, is to “strengthen and diversify the economy by supporting existing businesses” as well as “assisting in the attraction, development and expansion of new businesses and events that will in turn provide new jobs for our community.”

The day’s events were divided into hour-long sessions, covering a range of topics such as grant writing, job opportunities in film and television, as well as workforce, agriculture and small business development.

“We’re here to reach out to you, tell you about what services we provide, but we also want to find out what you want in your community and what we can do for you,” said Teena Rasmussen, OED’s Economic Development director.

Grant Writing
Each fiscal year, the council gives the OED funds that are divvied up around the county. This year, according to Rasmussen, they moved $16,500 worth of grants towards entrepreneurial programs and initiatives, such funding Molokai business to attend the Made in Hawaii festival, small business revitalization grants awarded to six Molokai businesses, as well as annual events like the Parade of Lights.

“We have to look as an office what is going to help your economy and how are we going to make sure the grants we hand out are going to help Molokai,” said Rasmussen.

OED Grants Manager Tina Silva passed around grant application outlines so that community members can get an early start on writing their requests for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014 and ends June 30, 2015.

The application asks for basic information about the business, project or program; a proposal including problems, needs, and goals; and a checklist of required supporting documents such as recent financial statements, by-laws of the organization, and agreements, leases and contracts with the sate and county.

Rasmussen told attendees that the OED plans out how it will allocate grants in the beginning of the fiscal year and recommended that applicants submit their requests at the end of June or beginning of July so the OED can bring it to the table during their earmark session.

“We didn’t know about this [suggested deadline],” local business owner, Brenda Kaneshiro. “There needs to be better communication about when to get in our applications so we can make it to the table rather than waste the opportunity. “

Rassmussen said she would discuss with the OED how to better correspond with Molokai in the future about suggested grant turn-in dates.

Film and Television Production
Maui County Film Commissioner Tracy Bennett was recently appointed to the position about a month ago. After 17 years of working in the film production business as a still photographer, he believes he has the know-how and contacts to make Maui County a thriving production hub while staying conscious of Maui County’s sacred places.

“With this position, I hope to combine my experience with my respect for the aina and for the community’s religious places,” said Bennett.

Bennett said his job requires him to act as a liaison between production companies that come to Maui County to film. He handles the permitting process between landowners and the production company as well as acts as resource to obtain various equipment and comforts needed for production.

“Molokai is beyond gorgeous to film,” said Bennett. “But I’m excited to talk to you individually because I know there have been distinct challenges in the past. My goal is to make the community happy…and ask [production companies] to change locations if needed.”

Beyond appeasing the community and supplying production companies with what they need, Bennett wants to provide work opportunities on future projects that come to the county.

“Often you’ll have between 100 and 150 easily working on a film and there are more on TV series,” he said. “There are always job openings and opportunities, especially casting agencies looking to hire locally. Part of my job is to encourage them to hire local.”

Attendees suggested that the county provide more educational programs through the high school and college so Molokai can both be inspired, trained and ready for those opportunities.

“We don’t have the actors, talent, crew here yet, but we need to encourage it within the community,” said Matt Yamashita, a Molokai film producer.

Hawkins agreed.

“That would open doors for creativity and to create jobs,” she said. “If we give the skill set [to the community], we know there will be the opportunity.”

Bennett expressed his interest about training youth in production and keeping it local.

“It’s a good opportunity to see how a production is run and I can tell you I would be very enthusiastic to make it happen for you,” said Bennett.

Made in Maui County
The OED is starting the initial planning stages to hold their first Made in Maui County Festival to showcase local businesses and products as well as provide them with opportunities to network and connect with wholesalers throughout the state, nation and globe.

“We’re planning to hold it the first week of November, Friday the 7th and Saturday the 8th, in 2014 at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center,” said OED Business Development Specialist Kimberly Haueisen.

Rasmussen said after seeing the success from the statewide Made in Hawaii Festival held each year on Oahu, the OED has decided to hold their own because of the number of talented businesses in Maui County alone.

Session attendees got the opportunity to show off their local products. OED representatives were impressed by the Molokai talent on display, which included areal photography, glass beads, resin shell jewelry and fishing lures crafted from deer antlers.

“We want every company in the county to show their wares,“ said Rasmussen.

Hauseisen said the festival will be open to everyone as long as 51 percent of the product is made in Maui County. She added that they plan to use the same formula as the Made in Hawaii event to distinguish if products are actually made locally.

The formula takes into account how much material is imported versus how much is locally produced. It also asks the producer to put a value to their labor and creativity in order find the percentage a product is made “locally.” To view the formula and calculate your percentage, visit the Made in Hawaii Festival webpage at www.madeinhawaiifestival.com.

“This formula really helped my business,” said Yoellah Yuhudah, glass bead artist and owner of Art Beads Maui. “I found out I should be charging much more for my product and spending less and more on certain things.”

Though the county will not be awarding grants to businesses wishing to attend the Made in Hawaii Festival in 2014, they would award them towards the Made in Maui County Festival.

“We want to do something for Molokai to make the cost feasible,” she said. We would also help with logistics to get your stuff over there too.”

According to Rasmussen, the county will meet in January to continue planning for the festival. She will give notice to the Molokai community on the event’s progress and will send financial aid applications by March.


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