by Ben Goldstein, Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives
The Aloha Spirit came alive in Washington last week, as the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii hosted Hawaii on the Hill, its fourth-annual fly-in to the nation’s capital.
The packed, two-day agenda culminated with the Taste of Hawaii gala in the historical Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building. Inside the posh ballroom, attendees donning aloha shirts and flower leis milled about to Hawaiian music, as dozens of vendors shared samples of Hawaiian treats and sundries nearby
“This is about showcasing Hawaii on the Hill, and providing opportunities for Hawaii businesses to expand locally, nationally and globally,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii. “Although people see Hawaii as a tourist destination, we also want to educate them about our state’s innovative products and services.
Hawaii Food Manufacturers Association members served up authentic island cuisine, like kalua pig sliders—miniature pulled pork sandwiches doused with spicy ketchup—and Sun Noodle delights, ramen noodles topped with teriyaki sauce and garnished with crunchy Wun Tun Strips, a treat made by Hawaii Candy. Joining the strong food industry presence were companies like Hawaiian Airlines and Hawaii Gas Co., who were also there promoting their businesses.
“It’s not just about food; We use this opportunity to showcase Hawaii’s various industries, like technology, transportation, and even education and health,” said Menor-McNamara. “These businesses participate in Hawaii on the Hill because they recognize the importance of keeping Hawaii on the map and continuing to inform our nation’s leaders about what our state has to offer.”
Feedback from participating chamber members has been unanimously positive, evidenced by the number of companies who now make the trip annually.
“It’s a great opportunity to network and showcase some of the high tech work we do,” said Eric Schiff, vice president at Navatek, a small defense contractor that works with the Office of Naval Research in the Marine Corps. “The Aloha State does it all—high tech, outstanding food—it’s just a fabulous place to work and play and live, and Hawaii on the Hill showcases that.”
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii was accompanied by the Neighbor Island Chambers, a partnership of chambers from smaller islands like Maui and Kauai.
“Here we are on the East coast, with all these friends and family, sharing Hawaii with them and all the amazing things our entrepreneurs make back home,” said Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce. “We want everyone who came out to remember that we do everything with the Aloha Spirit and a great pride in our culture.”
One major success story from past years is the Koloa Rum Company, which used the event as a springboard to expand its East Coast presence.
“Koloa Rum had a minimal presence on the East Coast, but since participating in Hawaii on the Hill from the very first year, they have expanded to more than 300 distribution channels,” said Menor-McNamara. “While these businesses are on the Hill promoting their products, they’re also able to connect with stakeholders and key contacts to build their businesses, so they see that as ROI, as well.”
Taste of Hawaii was part of the two-day Hawaii on the Hill trip organized by the state chamber, in partnership with Senator Mazie Hirono. Also on the itinerary was a welcome meeting and policy briefing with lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and heads of executive branch agencies. More than 100 delegates representing 65 Hawaiian companies participated in the visit, up from 25 companies in 2014, the first year the chamber made the trip.
“While it’s an exciting initiative, it’s also an important one, because we need to continue to work with different stakeholders to ensure that the Aloha State continues to be in the forefront and on the map,” said Menor-McNamara. “Hawaii on the Hill showcases that—while Hawaii is a great state to visit and vacation—there are also many other great things going on that contribute to our economy.”