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Editorial | Island Voices

Not protecting civil unions hurts Hawaii’s competitiveness

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Having heard that a few members of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, acting independently of the full board, have recommended that the governor veto House Bill 444 and instead set up a commission, I would like to offer my personal perspective as a businessman.

I believe very strongly that HB 444, in favor of civil unions, is long overdue, good for business and good for Hawaii.

I am the head of Microsoft Consulting Services in Hawaii. Microsoft is in the business of producing intellectual property (IP). Education, imagination and a solid work ethic form the raw resources of the IP industry.

Diversity is the fertilizer of this environment. Microsoft has resources dedicated to increasing work- force diversity because it is viewed as a competitive advantage.

We live in a time where the production of IP can occur anywhere. Technology can now turn our geographic isolation into an advantage, and I know we have a solid base of raw resources.

My group assists local businesses with their IT systems. These systems are primarily developed here, but also in Boston, Seattle, L.A. and India. For Hawaii-based work, I want to hire locally, but to fill technical gaps I have also hired from the mainland and abroad.

It is a real disadvantage to be located in a place where the protections of civil unions are lacking. We are competing with Boston, Seattle, L.A. and the Bay Area for the same people who are free to locate their businesses anywhere.

How do I convince talented gay persons from these areas to come to Hawaii if they will be losing protections for their families?

This year there was a ballot initiative in Washington state to limit the rights of couples in a civil union-type relationship. Microsoft spoke with its pocketbook on the importance of a diverse workforce when it donated $100,000 to defeat an initiative that would hurt its gay employees. Google and Apple publicly stood in opposition to a similar discriminatory proposition in California.

Why would our state want to erect a barrier to our competitiveness that other businesses feel a need to remove in their states?

This barrier works in other subtle ways to undermine our competitiveness. Many of our brightest children head to the mainland to escape a negative local environment. We are losing some of our best resources.

There has been a lot of discussion on the economic impact of this legislation. What I did not see in the analysis are the lost tax revenues from people and businesses that avoid locating here because our laws provide less protection. How do we quantify the loss of the tax revenues and economic output of our children who have fled the state?

While HB 444, like Hawaii’s Family Leave law, would have some impact on our business community, these minor effects are dwarfed by the value these protections would provide to local employees and their families.

HB 444 would be almost trivial to implement at Microsoft and other similar companies, and would initially affect only a small number of employees.

I, for one, do not think that any of our employees should be denied the protections afforded by HB 444. I would like to understand the rationale of the members of the Business Roundtable, who feel their employees and families should lack these protections.

Hawaii can be a place where IP-based industries flourish. Let’s approve HB 444 and remove barriers to our competitiveness.

Jeff Hong is principal consultant for Microsoft Consulting Services Hawaii.


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