Maui’s business community made up of people who care

In county and state hearings, disparaging comments about businesses are made as if our businesses are all large, uncaring corporations run by people who don’t love Maui and whose sole aim is making money, regardless of the impact on people, the environment and the community. It clearly shows that these individuals do not have a clue about the people we serve.

Maui’s business community is overwhelmingly made up of small businesses with local owners who live here, care about the environment, invest in this community, and survive in spite of the fact that we have the highest cost of doing business in the nation. By federal standards, many would be considered economically disadvantaged microenterprises due to their size and location (in a rural area).

These businesses are owned and operated by people – people who have had to leverage their lives for the chance to create a sustainable business. Many small-business people put homes, vehicles, retirement funds, college savings, furniture, equipment and more, or some combination thereof, at risk for this opportunity. If their business fails, they lose those assets, their careers and income, along with the jobs they helped create and provide, equating to significant losses for their employees as well. When a business is hurting, people are hurting, plain and simple. Yet, people speak of businesses like big structures, absent people. The faces of those that make up the business are frequently forgotten as if they don’t exist.

Many stories illustrate this point, but here’s one that is a work in progress. The names and details have been withheld to protect all sides.

A state department made a ruling against a chamber member that the business owner and the chamber felt was incorrect. We solicited additional feedback from attorneys, lawmakers, government officials and other businesses – all of whom also felt the ruling was wrong. While there is an “appeals process” (from department to the court system), the burden is on the business to prove that the department’s ruling is improper, which the company continues to pursue. Thus far, the company has spent about $25,000 in legal fees/costs, which could double before the situation is resolved. We and others believe the company’s owners will win in court, but even if they do, they will still be out $25,000-$50,000.

The owner of this business and I flew to Honolulu to meet with the department that made the ruling. There, people looked the owner straight in the face and said two things that still make me shudder inside. First, “It’s sad, but good businesses are thrown in with the bad because some try to skirt the law,” and, in terms of the money the company has to spend to fight the ruling, “That’s just the way it is; it’s the process.” It’s like the faces and spirits of business people are shadows, barely recognizable.

If the roles were reversed and those who made such comments were standing in the shoes of the good business owners, with their lives, resources, jobs and benefits on the line, do you think they would be OK to have someone say those things to them? Absolutely not!

Processes are important, but doing the right thing is crucial. Money that could help grow the business is being wasted as the owners defend themselves against an incorrect ruling they must pursue given the nature of their business.

Will people be hurt as a result? Absolutely! But, “That is the way it is.”

We find that wrong. At the Maui Chamber of Commerce, we are working to repair this and other injustices to businesses and all the people that make them up.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.