90,000 applications, 50 free flights: Inside Hawaii’s big gamble on remote work

Sandra Kwan

Summary List Placement

Back in September, Sandra Kwan left San Francisco dreaming of the perfect Hawaiian life. The past five months haven’t disappointed.

A senior program manager at LinkedIn, Kwan works 7 to 3 from her apartment, which overlooks Waikiki’s surf breaks. In the late afternoons, she catches a few waves or goes scuba-diving or just sits on the beach, a three-minute walk away.

Depending on the weekend, she dives with pods of dolphins and reef sharks or scrambles up the island’s rocky ridges for panoramic views of the coastline. None of this would’ve been possible before the pandemic, when she worked out of LinkedIn’s office in San Francisco.

Kwan’s pandemic move has been great for her, and yet it’s also one vision of a better future for Hawaii. With the surge in remote work, the state may have finally found what it’s been searching for: a way for people to live there without a career tied to tourism.

Local businesses and the government are now moving fast to capitalize on the sudden opening. The pandemic that ravaged Hawaii’s economy has exposed the dangers of its dependence on tourism. The number of visitors plunged by 99% last spring, prompting mass layoffs across hotels, restaurants, and airlines. At 9.3%, unemployment stands higher than in any other state in the country.

“To make the state less vulnerable to sudden and unexpected changes, we must diversify,” Gov. David Ige said in his address to the state legislature on January 25. “A post-COVID Hawaii cannot be a Hawaii as it used to be.” 

If it succeeds, Hawaii will end up with the resilient economy it’s struggled to shape for generations: In 2019, leisure and hospitality jobs accounted for 16 percent of employment on the islands, which was 1.6 times the concentration in the US. Any gains the state makes by supporting remote work will also offer lessons for the rest of the US as communities adapt to a labor market transformed by the coronavirus.

If it fails, Hawaii risks another economic catastrophe the next time the world stops going on vacation. 

Free flights to Hawaii

Hawaii’s push is already underway, and the first step has been a publicity blitz that got its start from a five-page Google doc.

After they arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco in May, Richard Matsui — who grew up on the islands — started jotting down some advice with his wife, Christine Guo. The couple had in mind their friends in the Bay Area who, like them, might also want to work in Hawaii while their offices were closed.

Their advice circulated widely, starting with the internal message boards of Google, Apple, and Facebook, whose employees shared it with friends. “This document kind of went viral,” Matsui said. “We ended up talking to dozens of people that were thinking of making the move.”

That caught the attention of local media outlets, and a number of business leaders in Honolulu said they wanted to help. Matsui and six others came together to form Movers and Shakas, a play on the …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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