HFIA Legislative Talk Story Panel

Navigating Challenges and Building Resilience: Insights from HFIA’s Legislative Talk Story Panel Discussion

This January HFIA was pleased to hold our Legislative Talk Story Panel discussion in person for the first time in several years. Central Pacific Bank generously provided us with a meeting space at their building and the view of the State Capitol was the perfect backdrop for this engaging and informative event.

Our panelists included:

  • Vice Speaker of the House Greggor Ilagan
  • Senator Tim Richards, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment
  • Joe Carter, Coca-Cola Bottling of Hawaii – The Odom Corporation
  • Kit Okimoto, Okimoto Corp.
  • Melissa Pavlicek, Hawaii Public Policy Advocates, representing Safeway
  • Moderator, Derek Kurisu, Executive Vice President, KTA Super Stores

Also in attendance from the legislature were Senator Glenn Wakai who is the Majority Floor Leader and Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs; Representative Richard Onishi who serves on the Committees on Consumer Protection & Commerce, Housing, and Transportation; Minority Leader Representative Lauren Matsumoto; Majority Whip Chris Todd, Chair of the Committee on Transportation and; Representative Daniel Holt who Chairs the Economic Development Committee. A number HFIA Retail Members, Supplier Members, and Associate Members were also in attendance.

Our moderator Derek Kurisu started off the event with some discussion of how important the food industry is, not just because we feed our state and our visitors, but also for the economic contributions the industry makes. Derek highlighted how efficiently and effectively the industry took action to make sure that everyone stayed fed after the August Maui fires. Our panelists then had the opportunity to introduce themselves and discuss their priorities for the year ahead.

Vice Speaker Ilagan: Informed Decision Making

Vice Speaker got his start in both politics and food policy as a Council Member on the Big Island dealing with the highly contentious issue of the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in local farming. A large number of papaya farmers lived in his district. After a papaya blight years ago, GMO papayas have become critical to the survival of the papaya industry in Hawaii. Ilagan advocated for these farmers by highlighting the need for informed decision making. He has carried that messaging with him during his four years at the legislature and he touched on some of the areas where state policy can have a big impact on the food industry such as infrastructure, transportation, economic development, and of course agriculture.

Senator Tim Richards: Furthering the Message and Mission of Agriculture

Senator Richards emphasized the need for robust public policy to support agriculture. He outlined Senate priorities, focusing on Maui’s recovery, economic growth, and the intertwined relationship between agriculture and the environment. Richards stressed the importance of workforce development for the agriculture sector and the food industry as a whole. He also made an important point about the need for a wholistic approach improving local food production saying, “We can’t do one sector at a time. We have to do a bit of everything all at once.”

Joe Carter: Corporate Responsibility on Multiple Fronts

The Odom Corporation’s commitment to serving Hawaii has long standing roots and is going strong. Joe spoke about Odom’s investment in sustainability, emergency preparedness, and community support. He’s excited about the future of sustainability for the company and their initiatives including a new solar powered facility in Campbell industrial park, a move towards recycled PET in bottles, and making sure their plastic is 100% recyclable including the caps. Joe also talked about the critical role they play in emergency response as a water bottler. They make sure to keep stock levels high during hurricane season, and were able to donate several containers after the Maui fires. Of course Odom makes sure to support their communities in good times as well donating over $250,000 a year to various community programs, organizations, and events.

Kit Okimoto: Meeting Challenges with Initiative

Representing a multigenerational independent grocery business with locations outside metro Honolulu Kit provided important insights to some of the challenges faced businesses in rural areas and in particular on the neighbor islands. Kit was involved in providing direct support to Maui after the wildfires and recently worked with Chad Buck of Hawaii Foodservice Alliance (HFA) to create a pre-covery pod in the Waianae area. He stressed the importance of a collaborative approach to emergency management that includes support for retailers. Kit also touched on other important policy goals such as funding the Double Up Food Bux program and eliminating the General Excise Tax from groceries which would reduce the cost of living for Hawaii residents.

Melissa Pavlicek: The Grocery Industry’s Multi-Faceted Role

Melissa, representing Safeway, outlined the various vital roles grocery stores play in the communities. In addition to providing food these businesses are also offer manufacturers, property owners and managers, community leaders, renewable energy and sustainability pioneers, transportation partners, pharmacies, and supporters of charities and community organizations. She shared Safeway’s experience during emergencies. When the Safeway store in Lahaina was damaged and without power after the fire, their team worked tirelessly to get the store up and running. They understood the need for people have access to essential goods, but also the great importance of returning one thing to normal for their community. Melissa also subtly discussed the importance of continuing to work to improve equity and inclusivity in out industry.

The Importance of Creating the Right Policy

After each panelist had a chance to talk Derek opened the floor for questions. The following conversation touched the need to for thoughtful policy and the challenges created when legislation has unintended negative consequences. There was a good deal of consensus on certain areas where action needs to be taken, and audience and panel members shared ideas what types of policy at the state level can help create positive change.

Melissa brought up the roadblocks and long timelines that many businesses face when dealing with County Permitting and several others on the panel and in the audience agreed. Rep Ilagan highlighted the need for advocacy and for the State and county to work together to improve these processes. Furthering the discussion Rep Matsumoto offered an example of how certain regulations had contributed to the closing of her families’ farm. Policy is never enacted in a vacuum and legislation intended to solve one problem can have wider impacts that may create other challenges.

Emergency management is of course on everyone’s mind this year and the food industry plays a critical role. As Derek said, after the Maui fires the industry took action, they didn’t wait to be asked to help. Because this has been the standard for emergencies in our state HFIA President and Executive Director Lauren Zirbel encouraged everyone to look at the importance of emergency management agencies establishing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with food industry partners. This would help make responses more efficient and help make sure businesses can get reimbursed for their contributions when possible. Ethan West, CEO of Piko Provisions and HFIA member, has a background in agriculture and brought up ways to incorporate local food and ag into emergency planning and prevention. Senator Richards talked about the importance of creating the right infrastructure to handle emergencies. Rep Ilagan discussed the bi-partisan legislative package on emergency management that has been introduced, he also mentioned the work done by the Food, Water, & Other Supplies Working Group.

Rep Ilagan closed the conversation with some helpful insight into the legislature, he cited the fact that over 3000 bills get introduced but only a small fraction get passed each year. He understand the need to focus on what is actionable, what can get passed by the legislature and successfully implemented by the administration.

We look forward to working with all our panelists to advocate for policy that will advance the mission of HFIA and support our members as they feed our state.