Archive for April, 2011

Reciprocal Investment with China - the Time has Come

April 25th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Despite the global economic slowdown, China is strong and continues to grow. By 2030, China expects 400 million people to be moving to urban areas. They will need jobs, housing, health care, transportation and infrastructure. They will be spending money on food, housing and other consumables, especially energy. China is the world’s largest energy importer and is worried about not owning enough to sustain growth. The use of clean energy is a top priority.

What does this mean to Hawaii? It means opportunity, the chance to attract investment and increase sales for energy, food and other technologies that can help China manage its growth. The time has come to understand how this huge market force can be leveraged to help build Hawaii’s tech economy and how Hawaii can participate in China’s growth. Hawaii should be well-suited to the task – we have a special relationship with China. It’s our time to connect.

The Chinese are looking for business partners all over the world. They prefer investment that comes with expertise. Some will be interested in investing in Hawaii, in real estate and possibly business, to gain a foothold and make a return. To get in on things, we need to analyze our investment opportunities in China and see how Hawaii companies can obtain investment from China. Perhaps it can even be a two-way street.

That’s why this month the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, ThinkTech and Pacific New Media are presenting a two-panel luncheon program on “Reciprocal Investment” with China – Hawaii investing in China, and China investing in Hawaii. The program is reciprocal in the sense that it will explore investment opportunities going in both directions, and the relationship of one to the other.

Sponsored by Hawaii Business Magazine, the program will take place this Thursday, April 28th, 2011, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Plaza Club, 900 Fort Street Mall.

The first panel will cover Hawaii investments in China, and will feature tax attorney Roger Epstein of Cades Schutte as moderator; Jeff Au of PacifiCap; Jeff Lau of Oliver, Lau, Lawhn, Ogawa & Nakamura; Chris McNally of the East-West Center; and Mike Sacharski of Pacific Enterprise Capital.

The second panel will cover China investments in Hawaii, and will feature Chinese law professor Lifeng Tao of the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade as moderator; Charles Booth of the William S. Richardson School of Law; Bee-Leng Chua of HiBeam; attorney Alan Ma; and Scott Paul of Hoku Corporation.

As a special guest, Shanghai attorney David Mao of the Pioneer Law Group in Shanghai will also be coming in to provide his views on the subject. All in all, it’s an impressive array of experienced experts who can help us build our bridge to China.

You can visit ThinkTechHawaii.com to see the flyer or the biosheet for the panelists, and you can sign up on either hvca.org or thinktechhawaii.com. It’ll be well-attended, so sign up soon.

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If you really want to stop rail, you can.

April 19th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Mufi Hannemann was very unpopular in Nuuanu. He dumped all over neighborhood concerns about the subdivision on the mountainside there and managed to alienate everyone for miles. He was a constant adversary, at war with the neighborhood.

His friend in this troubled affair was council member Rod Tam, who also met a deserved political comeuppance. Tam has been replaced by Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo. For Nuuanu, Tulsi is turning out to be a breath of fresh air - competent, responsive and concerned.

Witness the Kimo Drive bridge. It was originally built over Nuuanu Stream in 1922, a work of history and art connecting Nuuanu Pali Drive with Kaohinani, quietly serving Nuuanu mauka all these years. But it had deteriorated for the lack of any attention by the City.

After decades of waiting, last year the City started repairing the bridge. Everything seemed to be going well under contractor Integrated Construction. But last week it appeared the City would require a new design element - a raised guard rail, to make the bridge “comply with code.”

Bad news. Everyone agreed that this rail would deface the aesthetic of the bridge and would look awful. It was not the first time the City had abused the old bridge. In the 1990’s, without notice, the City came out on one afternoon and summarily cut the historic lampposts off all four corners of the bridge. It was insensitive and sad, but oh so final.

Determined not to allow further aesthetic tragedy, the neighbors and the Nuuanu Valley Association took up the cause against the rail and dozens of them wrote to Tulsi, hoping that she could help them stop the rail. There followed lots of email, coming together.

Tulsi responded like a trooper, immediately, and was able to persuade the City facilities branch to drop the rail idea. It was good civic process of a kind Nuuanu had not seen over the Hannemann administration, and the bridge was saved from further defacement.

Simple enough, but also remarkable. For the first time in years it seemed that the City was listening to the neighbors in Nuuanu, and that was something new and uplifting. Has the City emerged into a new period of enlightenment through Tulsi? It seems quite so.

Hooray for Tulsi and good process. Hooray for the Nuuanu Valley Association and for Integrated Construction. It goes to show that if you’re determined, you really can stop rail. If only we could do that on a citywide basis. That would be something.

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Why can't we leave the internet alone?

April 11th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

The Monday paper reported that the Legislature is considering a tax on Internet transactions. How could this pop up at the end of the session? The public had no notice this was going to happen. Was there a bill introduced to this effect in January? I don’t think so. You have to wonder about the process that surprises us this way.

This bill is likely to reduce Internet sales in Hawaii. Remember what happened with Amazon a few years ago. The state was going to tax Amazon sales and Amazon said if you tax us we’re out of here and in fact they terminated sales to Hawaii. There was a great hue and cry and the Legislature relented. How quickly we forget. The gross excise tax is completely regressive with the most far reaching coverage in the country. Push its boundaries and the poor suffer most.

I guess you take any port in the budget storm. But really, is this the best way to balance the budget? I doubt it. In fact, Internet sales are growing dramatically, not only in Hawaii, but all over the world. Internet sales are particularly important here because we’re thousands of miles away from the mainland. With them, we have choices in buying. Without them, we’re hostage.

The merchants in the brick and mortar stores say that they’re at a disadvantage because they have to raise prices to include the gross excise tax. But is brick and mortar the future of retail? No. The future of retail is the Internet. If we want to give local sales tax relief why don’t we just example food and drugs, like many other states do and as we should have done years ago.

We can’t afford to lose our unencumbered connection to the Internet marketplace. It’s been helpful for the development of the state. We’re isolated and the Internet has helped us achieve at least some parity with the mainland in purchasing goods and services that are not locally available. Don’t take that away from us.

Senator Sam Slom is right. If you want to balance the budget there are plenty of expenses we can still cut. We have too many people in government. They’re 20% of our workforce, and maybe more because so many jobs have been lost in the private sector. Sure it’s political, but there must be a way we can bring the size of government in line with our sagging economy. Actually, no other way will work.

Maybe we need to cut government services, workers and benefits that are costing the taxpayers so much money. That’s how we can reduce spending and thus balance the budget so that we can avoid the need for creative tax increases like this one. We should streamline things to make our economy more resilient, and hopefully also more diversified.

Taxing the Internet is not the way. It goes directly to our quality of life, especially in hard times. It’s as bad an idea today as when it came up before. Legislators should find other techniques to balance things. If they want to do the right thing, why don’t they focus on diversification and incentivizing new businesses? That’d be better than a tax on the Internet, or a stick in the eye.

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Hawaii Youth Symphony - passion, purity and promise

April 5th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

This week ThinkTech is working on an OC16 movie about the Hawaii Youth Symphony. It’ll play on OC16 this Sunday at 10:30 p.m. Check it out, and listen to the music. You’ll be able to tell what a treat it was to meet the people at HYS, particularly in these dark days when we don’t actually have an adult symphony orchestra. I love my ThinkTech job meeting people like this.

The people running HYS are inspired. They include Henry Miyamura, 50 years teaching kids music, a living treasure for Hawaii. Selena Ching, executive director and social worker camp counselor person who brings them together. We spoke with Tom Bingham, academician and HYS vice president, and husband of Ruth Bingham, my favorite opera reviewer.

We called Sheryl Shohet, talented violinist who tutors young musicians in HYS. And Mike Foumai, a prodigy composer alumnus of HYS now in music graduate school on the mainland. And we enjoyed talking with Dave Masunaga, alumnus and Iolani mathematics teacher, who regularly plays in orchestras around the state. All brilliant, dedicated and fun to interview.

These are the kind of supporters that make HYS great. We spoke to attorney Ken Robbins too. He’s a long-time patron of the arts and the leader of the Symphony Exploratory Committee that hopes to resurrect the Honolulu Symphony. He’s also a big supporter of HYS. He understands the connection between the two and how the symphony must be a model for the kids in HYS.

Classical and symphonic music is so important to our community. If you listen, you can hear it breathe and resonate all around you. It’s the music you can touch, the music you can never forget, the music that lives in you. There were some great composers in the day that classical music was written. And if there’s any question whether these kids favor that music, they do.

If there’s any question whether they love Henry Miyamura, they do. Henry and his music help them play great music together, as a team, as one. Not everyone can experience that. It helps them define their lives and careers. It helps them find themselves for school and for the long haul. Many will go on to a career in music. Those who don’t will always be connected to it.

To have a symphony for kids in our community is not only useful and entertaining, it’s critical to the self-awareness of that community. We have to teach our kids music. We have to build in them the discipline and teamwork of an orchestra. They are a team today, but will be friends forever. What greater gift to them and what greater gift to us is their music.

On April 10th, HYS will play a concert at Blaisdell. It’s an important concert. It includes music composed by Mike Foumai. It raises money for Japan. This is the kind of concert that brings us all together. In it, you’ll feel the heartbeat of our kids and community, and you’ll feel good.

HYS is a statement of excellence, of the kind of passion, purity and promise only kids can feel. It gives us the gift and raises us up beyond the daily grind. Come and you’ll see what I mean. And if you can’t attend this concert, then attend the ones to follow. In any event, generously support HYS and for that matter the Honolulu Symphony as and when it’s resurrected.

You could do it for them, but don’t. Do it for yourself.

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