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Kenoi calls for collaboration in face of tough times

KARIN STANTON/Hawaii247.com Contributing Editor

The county faces a tough couple of years, Mayor Billy Kenoi said Friday, but with a little cooperation and collaboration the future doesn’t have to be gloomy.

Kenoi, the keynote speaker at the Big Island Visitors Bureau annual luncheon at The Fairmont Orchid, said the focus of his administration will be to create a stable environment for Big Island families.

Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks Friday, Dec. 5 at the Big Island Visitors Bureau annual luncheon at The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii. (Photo by Karin Stanton/Hawaii247.com)

Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks Friday, Dec. 5 at the Big Island Visitors Bureau annual luncheon at The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii. (Photo by Karin Stanton/Hawaii247.com)

Speaking to nearly 200 tourism industry leaders, Kenoi said Hawaii may be known as a top travel destination, but to some 175,000 people its home.

“Before we make sure Hawaii Island is a great place to visit, we have to make sure it is a great place to live,” he said. “It’ll be challenging for the next 12, 18, even 24 months.”

Kenoi said he has instituted a hiring freeze for the county, but exempted the police and fire departments, as well as the Civil Defense Agency.

Keeping communities safe is the first step toward a healthy community, he said. Kenoi said Hawaii should also strive to become the first energy sustainable county in the country.

“And that’s hard unless you have jobs,” he said.

Kenoi listed the top employers on the Big Island – the state, county and federal governments.

Hilton Waikoloa Village is the fourth largest island employer, while KTA SuperStores is fifth. Several other Kohala resorts also make the top 10 list, he said.

“The focus is capacity. We’ve got to fill hotels,” he said. “There’s got to be a marketing focus on increasing capacity.”

Full hotels mean visitors who will spend their vacation dollars in shops, in restaurants, on rental cars and a host of other good and services. That, in turn, means jobs, he said.

“We need to secure what we have that has the greatest impact,” he said. “We must support the businesses that support the tourism industry.”

When the two Norwegian Cruise Line ships left the islands this year, Kenoi said, they took 10,000 jobs and left a $1 billion hole in the state economy.

Kenoi said he does not have any easy answers.

“I’m not going to stand here as mayor and say I’m going to do A, or B, or C,” he said. “It’s never about one person.”

The mayor praised BIVB as “heading in the right direction,” by helping attract direct flights to Kona.

At the same meeting, former Mayor Harry Kim received the BIVB Hoomaikai Award, given to a person or company that embodies and demonstrates the spirit of aloha.

Also, Jerry Jamesson, of ResortQuest Shores at Waikoloa was introduced as the incoming chairman of the board of directors.

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