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Column: Movers & Shakas program one step toward healing Hawaii

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  • Jason Higa

    Jason Higa

  • Robert Nobriga

    Robert Nobriga

  • Benjamin Ancheta

    Benjamin Ancheta

As the pandemic unfolded and with forecasts predicting significant challenges for Hawaii well beyond 2021, the three of us, along with other local business leaders, felt compelled to do something to relieve the economic devastation being faced by our state.

We came up with Movers & Shakas, an innovative temporary remote work program that at its heart is an opportunity for former Hawaii residents to return home — and to share their knowledge while here — providing a shot in the arm to Hawaii’s visitor industry and economy.

The initial cohort of 50 people selected for Movers & Shakas must meet mandatory program criteria. They are required to be employed in an out of state job and, while residing here temporarily, will spend a meaningful portion of their income in Hawaii. Those selected must also be willing to sign a Pledge to Our Keiki, a reminder for former residents and a commitment by out-of-state individuals to uphold community values and contribute at least 15 hours a month to local nonprofits and businesses. In short, they are hand-picked to contribute to Hawaii just as Hawaii will contribute to them.

While the program was enthusiastically received, there was some discussion about whether remote workers might take job opportunities away from residents or add to the competition for affordable housing.

Movers & Shakas doesn’t eliminate or create competition for jobs, since participants bring their jobs with them. Nor does their presence affect the inventory of affordable housing for local residents. Movers & Shakas participants will be incentivized to stay at hotels, which need help rebuilding their occupancy levels to stay afloat.

One of the things that makes this program unique is that it originated with local business people who lived out-of-state and who themselves once yearned to return to Hawaii, or had family that did. In fact, Movers & Shakas is funded by the companies that these people now own or lead, as well as by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

In Hawaii, we often lament that our children must go out of state for jobs, and that if we could provide higher paying jobs, we’d be able to keep them here or enable their return. Movers & Shakas now provides the potential for our children to permanently return to Hawaii while continuing to work for their out-of-state employer.

Our intent is that Movers & Shakas will also plant seeds. Hawaii will be introduced to successful professionals who come from diversified economies and business sectors from across the nation. While paired with a local nonprofit or business for 15 hours a month, they’ll share their perspectives and skills with local professionals.

We believe current sector-focused workforce development initiatives will directly benefit from mentoring provided by participants in this program, contributing to job growth in certain resilient sectors over the long term. There’s no telling what other synergies might grow from that cross-pollination.

To succeed, this program will need support from the community and the companies that underwrite its operation with discounts on flights, accommodations and other components, to the nonprofit organizations and businesses that will benefit from working with program participants.

At a time when our economy and communities are suffering due to the effects of the pandemic, we must work together to create innovative solutions to help begin filling some of the gaps. Movers & Shakas is a program developed with the right intentions and provides one step among the many we must take to help solve the economic dilemma in which we now find ourselves.

Ben Ancheta is CEO of Inkinen Executive Search; Jason Higa is CEO of FCH Enterprises, dba Zippy’s; and Rob Nobriga is president of Island Holdings. Co-authors are founding members of Movers & Shakas: Lynelle Marble, executive director, Hawaii Executive Collaborative; Richard Matsui, CEO, kWh Analytics; and Denise Yamaguchi, executive director, Hawaii Ag Foundation.

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