The Last Word: ‘Aloha' to Real Change

April 29, 2009
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Here is a story that many of you are sure to have missed.

It was reported by CNN during April, that on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, business owners and residents pulled together to complete a $4 million repair job to a state park-for free.

That’s right, for free. And, while the state government predicted the repairs could take more than two years to complete, the residents and businesses completed the job in eight days!

Polihale State Park, one of the island’s most popular tourist spots, had been closed since December 2008. Severe flooding destroyed an access road to it. Hawaii’s state government had estimated the repair would cost $4 million and that the state park might be closed for the next two summers. That was the best-case scenario.

In reality, the state was in a financial situation similar to many other states in the country, cutting funds due to lost revenue and escalating costs, so there was no firm timetable of when the project would be started, let alone be completed. With Kauai’s unemployment rate already at more than 9% and climbing, getting the park open for businesses and employees who rely on it for their livelihood was critical.

“Bankruptcy would be imminent. How many years could I be expected to continue operating, owning 15-passenger vans, $2 million in insurance and a staff? For us it was crucial and our survival was dependent on it,” said Ivan Slack, co-owner of Napali Kayak, which operates in and around the state park.

Bruce Pleas, a local surfer, and Slack organized machinery and manpower from among other businesses and began repairs on March 23. After eight days they were done! It cost $0 to get the job done. Was there any cost? Sure, but that was absorbed by the volunteers and businesses.

“It was shockingly quick to fix a problem that may have taken much longer if we waited for state money to funnel in,” said Pleas.

What Slack, Pleas and others on Kauai rediscovered is the “can-do” American attitude that is the foundation not only for successful U.S. businesses, but is also part of the foundation of our country’s heritage. It is what has set us apart from other nations for much of our 233 years of existence.

Lately, all we have heard coming from the media and government is that we need to wait for some group of elite Washington and global politicians to determine the solution to our current economic situation. Sadly, many top executives in the automotive, banking, insurance, manufacturing, service and other sectors have bought that falsehood.

When I heard the Polihale State Park story, it instantly reinforced my hope that the answer to our economic issues lies within our grasp.

“Just like everyone’s sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this, but decided we couldn’t wait anymore,” says Slack.

If you are waiting for things to change on their own, or by government fiat, stop waiting. Get moving. Each of you knows your business far better than any government bureaucrat. You understand what your customers need, or how to find those answers. You understand how to use tools that lead to successful product introduction, distribution and sales.

Whether a manufacturer is unionized, regardless of its size, the tools exist to do what was done in Kauai. All it takes is the will to change the situation, determination and people in the company working together for a common goal. It is managers, line workers, accountants, sales people, inspectors, forklift drivers; whoever draws a paycheck from a company can be a part of the solution.

Each and every business and consumer can prove the economists, the politicians and media pundits wrong about the length of time it will take for the economy to pick up again.

Some of you have already taken up this challenge; some of you never stopped with your “can-do” attitude. It is difficult to continue at times, especially in the face of naysayers and those who would have you rely on the government for solutions. Perseverance not only has its own rewards, but the marketplace rewards it too-more business, better stock prices, etc.

During the 2008 campaign, President Obama told voters “Yes we can,” without ever telling us what we “can” do. The Polihale State Park story tells us exactly what we can do if we put our minds and talents to work.

Share your thoughts with me at williamst@bnpmedia.com, or share your thoughts with other Quality Magazine readers at the Quality Magazine LinkedIn Group page at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1876808.

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