Archive for April, 2012

The press weighs in on Rail - April 26th

April 18th, 2012
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The press will weigh in on Rail on Thursday April 26th. Here's a video about the program.


Join us at the next ThinkTech Hawaii Venture Capital Association luncheon on April 26, 2012 at the Plaza Club 20th Floor from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. for a great conversation about “Transportation in Hawaii, The press weighs in on Rail.”

Rail is the largest public works project ever undertaken in Hawaii and will affect all of us. With that in mind, we plan an examination into the subject from a different perspective. No debate, no rail or anti-rail, just an in-depth conversation with a host of journalists. We will explore the coverage, the costs, the challenges, the impact, the trade-offs, the likelihood of success, transportation oriented development issues and what it all means to our congested highways and byways.

After opening remarks from Mayor Peter Carlisle, we will present two panels of journalists: The first panel will examine "the Coverage on Rail," moderated by Steve Petranik of Hawaii Business Magazine with panelists Jerry Burris, Richard Halloran, Mark Platte and Barbara Tanabe. The second panel will examine "the Story on Rail," moderated by David Tumilowicz of Hawaii Business Magazine with panelists Mark Abramson, Michael Levine, Ian Lind, Neal Milner and Malia Zimmerman.

Let's meet and explore this important subject with these members of the press at the ThinkTech-HVCA luncheon on April 26th. As always, enjoy good food, great people and a first class networking experience. Register at hvca.org.

See you then!

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Just suppose Best Buy closes

April 10th, 2012
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Last week, Best Buy announced they would close 50 of their stores by 2013. It’s not clear if that includes Hawaii’s two Best Buy stores, but if Best Buy does close 50 stores that would leave 1,105 stores in the U.S. and 185 stores in China under the company's “Five Star” brand.

In the announcement, Best Buy said they were closing these stores to “lower costs,” and they projected their savings to be $250 million in 2013 and a total savings of $800 million by 2015.

But Best Buy plans to open the very same number of stores in China during the same period. So it’s got to be more complicated than lowering costs. Maybe they need the money to open the new stores in China. Maybe it’s that they think the China stores will be more profitable than the U.S. stores. Most likely, it’s all of the foregoing.

For Hawaii, it’s downright scary. First, we had and then lost Computer City, which had a store in Victoria Ward and another in Waikele, replaced happily with the larger CompUSA. These big box computer stores were invaluable to anyone who wanted to stay current on computers.

But then CompUSA went down in 2008 and KS, its landlord, had no interest in leasing that facility to another computer retailer. So it stood dormant for two years. Then KS made it into a used car sales lot, which it is today, not selling a single computer to any of us.

What a loss. The good news, of course, was Best Buy. It arose to replace its predecessors and despite an over-allocation of household appliances it has continued the tradition of providing Hawaii with retail computers. And it has done a great job in that, all to our mutual benefit.

That’s why this announcement is so troubling. If Best Buy closes the Hawaii stores, or goes the way of history like Computer City and CompUSA, what will we do then? We’re in the middle of the Pacific. Being relegated to mail order, only, will be a burden on all of us.

It will slow down our progress. Your router fails, well order one and wait three days or more and pay the shipping. What exactly do we do for those three days? We will feel the pain almost immediately. We’ll become backwater in the most highly leveraged tools of all, computers.

Mail order like Amazon is more efficient. While Best Buy pays the cost of shipping new goods, returns and outmoded goods back and forth, Amazon and other online competitors only ship one way. Although we don’t yet pay GET with Amazon, we do get to pay the cost of shipping.

I’d like to think that local investors will pick up the slack and open their own brand of Best Buy, but we know that’s not true. Name one big box that’s locally owned. Even the small computer store that popped up in Kaimuki after CompUSA closed, went out of business shortly thereafter.

So if and when Best Buy goes, we’ll be out of luck, it not permanently, then for a long while, while the rest of the world moves on without us into the computer miracles of the 21st Century. This will be a blow to our small businesses, and also our sense of computer awareness.

I can’t believe that the Best Buys in Hawaii are not making money. Our Best Buys are always crowded and people seem to be shopping with a certain relish. But that’s what they said about CompUSA before it closed. Hard to believe, but there you have it.

Certainly, I don’t wish any of this, and in fact I wish against it. But given this announcement perhaps we should start thinking about the awful possibility that our Best Buy stores could close, and the terrible troubles we will have in getting consumer computer equipment if they do.

A message to Best Buy: stay in business, stay in Hawaii, and don’t trade us off for an adventure in China. We’re here, we’re technologically dependent on you, we shop with you regularly, and best of all you have no significant brick and mortar competition here. So why give that up?

Best Buy said 14 of its new stores in China will be "mobile store-within-a-store concepts." The "store-within-a-store" is a small Best Buy store located within a larger Best Buy store. Best Buy also plans to open 100 "mobile small format stand-alone stores" in shopping centers in the U.S. in 2013. Hawaii doesn’t need those.

Hawaii needs the Best Buy stores it already has.

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Let's build green roofs in Kakaako

April 2nd, 2012
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Governor Neil Abercrombie brought his wife Nancie Caraway to the ThinkTech-HVCA Kakaako Arising program at the Plaza Club on March 22nd. They stayed and participated in the program through the end, and that was a big part of the magic of it. It became a kind of salon on Kakaako, and one of our best programs.

While the Governor was making his opening remarks, Nancie came up to the podium and whispered something to him. A moment later he said we should not forget to include “green roofs” on the roofs of Kakaako. This reference to urban gardening was oft repeated and became a thread in the program.

Actually, there’s already an urban garden growing in Kakaako, atop the CompUSA building there. It comes in the form of black bags of soil on the roof, out of which gardens grow. Although with the plans for redevelopment the used car lot at the CompUSA building won’t be there that much longer, that rooftop is a beginning and perhaps a symbol for rooftop gardening in the area, and elsewhere

Kakaako is a perfect place for Nancie’s suggestion. The air is clear, the sun is tropical, the rainfall is right (although rooftop gardens can be watered very easily), and there aren’t many bugs or natural enemies on the roof. All you need is access to the rooftop so you can tend your garden. It’s nutritious, fun and not very difficult, what with the many kits and supplies you can buy on the internet to get you started.

You can buy supplements for the soil, seeds, watering lines, and that’s all you need. The cost is minimal, and so is the work. Everyone with access to a flat roof can do it, and if we all do it we can have a more sustainable city with fresh do-it-yourself fruits and vegetables supplied from above. Like the old Shirokawa Inn at Waihino near Naalehu, restaurants can send their guests out for to pick desert. What a wonderful touch for the new Kakaako now in coming.

BrightFarms, the first hydroponic rooftop greenhouse company, is growing in Brooklyn. This makes New York a model for urban agriculture and a center for the entrepreneurial food movement. BrightFarms designs, finances, builds and manages rooftop greenhouses to sell to food retailers. Its greenhouses are designed to produce lettuce, greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. It uses no land, 95% less water, no chemical pesticides and a drastically reduced carbon footprint. What’s not to like about that?

We can do exactly the same thing here, or very likely better. Our legacy is rich in agriculture, so let’s get started and show them our stuff. Thanks for coming to the program, Nancie. It’s a great idea.

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