“Taking Hawaii to market and raising its visibility in spheres of influence are important,” Menor-McNamara says. “Being isolated from power centers where policy decisions are made can be a barrier. Sen. Hirono’s initiative reminds us that working collaboratively with our federal delegation is as vital as our focus on state and county issues.”
Certainly Hawaii businesses, subject to regulations, mandates and tax implications from all levels of government, are mindful of that premise.
“Eighty percent of the Chamber’s members are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees,” the Chamber executive cites. “The majority have fewer than 20 employees.”
The implication for advocacy through an established, credible force as the Chamber of Commerce is obvious.
As member Monica Toguchi, president/owner of Highway Inn, puts it, “Since I was a child, I heard my father complain about the enormous challenges of being a small-business owner in Hawaii. When I took over our family business in 2009, I decided that I was not going to passively sit on the sidelines. I decided to get involved to educate myself about the system of public policy — the good, bad and ugly parts of it.”
This “engagement” by Chamber members is exactly what Menor-McNamara is focused on to take the organization to the next level.
She and a 32-member board hope to double the Chamber membership to 2,000 by 2016. Its One-and-Done campaign is aimed at having its current 1,000 members bring in one new member to meet the goal.
It’s easier said than done, according to observers, who note the declining numbers in national trade organizations because of time-poverty, technology and relevancy issues.
According to Menor-McNamara, this means today’s organizations must “focus, focus, focus.”
She adds, “Also, it means we must be prepared to take strong stands, be nimble and personalize the experience for members.”
She speaks with the wisdom of a seasoned executive, many of whom surround and support her on the Chamber board.
Board chairman is Dennis Francis, president and publisher of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of Honolulu Star-Advertiser, MidWeek, military papers, glossy magazines and various specialty publications.
Francis, like his CofC colleague, realizes the mission.
“Our lives and livelihoods of our families, friends and neighbors depend on a thriving business community and require critical partnerships with government, organized labor and the broader community,” he says. “It is our duty to be effective advocates on business issues.”
Every year the Chamber reviews and prioritizes 2,500-plus bills introduced at the state Legislature. Last year, for the first time, it presented a business package to proactively address the impact of measures on the cost of doing business in Hawaii and sustaining a thriving economy.
Since 1985, it serves as the state’s liaison to the military through a Military Affairs Council comprised of business leaders and retired U.S. flag and general officers. Hawaii’s defense industry generates $14.7 billion into our economy, making it the second-largest source of revenue after tourism.
Menor-McNamara’s ganbatte style of management also is examining ways for Hawaii to improve its dismal rank of 49 out of 50 among “America’s Top States for Business” scored each year by CNBC.
“We have nowhere to go but up,” she says hopefully.
Asked what her view is of a business utopia, the CEO cites a working environment that is “not overly regulated, has stability and is sustainable.”
But the wheel has many spokes, she affirms, and delineates “cost of doing business, infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, technology and innovation, business friendliness, education, cost of living and access to capital.”
She reminds us that established and respected programs spurred by the Chamber over the years include Retail Merchants of Hawaii (1901), Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (1903), Aloha United Way (1919), Mental Health Association (1937) and Blood Bank of Hawaii (1941).
Also, Tax Foundation of Hawaii (1945), Better Business Bureau (1945), Crime Stoppers Honolulu (1981), Workers Compensation Coalition (1994),
Buy Hawaii (2001), Senior Projects Mentoring (2010) and Stay Active on Furlough Fridays (2010).
It’s a track record that motivates and gratifies Menor-Mc-Namara, who has the opportunity to add to the slate.
Will she succeed?
As Punahou grad and prominent entrepreneur Steve Case, who addressed the Chamber’s annual luncheon, puts it:
“It’s stunning to me what kind of an impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align the interest of a great team.”