Hawaii 'workation' program has long-term aspirations, as well

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An inaugural group of 50 people will be chosen for the Movers and Shakas program, after an initial application period ending Dec. 15.
An inaugural group of 50 people will be chosen for the Movers and Shakas program, after an initial application period ending Dec. 15.

With tourism down and the flexibility for remote work greater than ever, a coalition of Hawaiian businesses, state agencies and organizations launched a program at the end of November to promote and support U.S. mainland residents moving their home offices to the Aloha State for a "workcation" or extended stay.

The initiative, dubbed Movers and Shakas, provides discounts and incentives for those accepted and will also link the workers who move to the state with local nonprofits and other organizations to facilitate community involvement and the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

An inaugural group of 50 people will be chosen for relocation to Oahu, the most populous island, after an initial application period ending Dec. 15. The hope is that the program will be expanded statewide and will be an ongoing initiative.

The program is a joint effort including funding and support from the Hawaii state government, business leaders and alumni associations at schools and colleges. The founding organizations include the Central Pacific Bank Foundation, Hawaii Executive Collaborative, Island Holdings, Inkinen and FCH Enterprises.

"We noticed the boom in remote work and started discussing in the summer ways we could support more people coming here who want to contribute to the Islands," said Jason Higa, CEO of FCH Enterprises, parent company of Zippy's restaurants, and one of the people who has spearheaded the program. "By that time places like Barbados and Bermuda were announcing their own remote-work programs. We felt Hawaii is an attractive destination, and it would be a great way to supplement the seven-day visitor market. There's an opportunity for former local residents to return home and for out-of-state individuals and families to live and work from Hawaii for a longer period of time."

Those chosen for Movers and Shakas will receive roundtrip tickets to Hawaii and will have access to discounts on lodging and other services, including car rentals. The program is designed for a "give and get" approach with special attention to people who are invested in working with the Hawaii community. Each participant is expected to volunteer three to five hours per week.

"We are being very intentional about looking for someone willing to connect with the community," Higa said. "We will be looking for people doing this naturally, those who are already giving back to their community wherever they are coming from and who have the intention of doing the same thing here in Hawaii. We want to connect local nonprofit organizations that may have the need for certain skill sets and we'll be asking participants to contribute."

The program addresses several key issues currently confronting Hawaii. Prior to the pandemic, Hawaii's population was shrinking, according to U.S. Census data, recording a net loss in population for three consecutive years from 2017 to 2019 even while registering one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. During the pandemic, the vital tourism industry has been hard hit, with total visitor arrivals down 73% year-over-year through October, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. In October, Hawaii recorded the highest unemployment rate in the country at 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Movers and Shakas hopes to attract more high-skilled workers to the state who will boost the local communities and economy with collaboration and also generate a few more lifelong lovers of the Aloha State along the way. Moving forward after the initial group of 50, the plan is to take more applicants on a rolling basis and also expand the program to all of the islands outside of Oahu.

"The Hawaiian culture, a real mix of several different ethnicities, is one of the state's stronger points, and it's something that a seven-day visitor does not always have the time to really experience," Higa said. "Someone who is staying for six months has the opportunity to get ingrained in the local culture."

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