Denise Walker feeds her llamas and sheep. They were brought in to keep the grass and weeds mowed down around her macadamia nut trees as an alternative to herbicides. They eat the grass and later fertilize the trees.

Walker local firms
to get a fair shake

Denise Walker

Day jobs: Co-owns with her husband the environmental consulting firm Walker Consultants and a macadamia nut farm near Kurtistown on the Big Island.

Community service: Appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle to the Small Business Regulatory Review Board

You've been on the board before?

Yes. I was on the founding task force that wrote the legislation and fought to get it passed in 1998. I've sat on the board since 1998. Last year I was the chairperson for one year and they asked me to stay on to provide continuity.

You're a Republican, but you've been appointed by Democrats and now a Republican. How has that happened?

I'm nonpartisan. I'm basically there to support small business in the state and I don't think partisan politics should enter into that. I've been fighting for 10 years to help Hawaii small businesses maintain economic viability. Small business is the economic back bone regardless of whether you're talking about Hawaii or the Midwest or any other state. We're important. And we've been disregarded for too long. The perception has been that small business owners make big bucks, but we're the same as anybody else. We're your neighbors. There are a lot of folks in state government who don't seem to understand that. Frankly, the reason I really got involved was years ago I was sitting in a labor hearing, I forget the subject, and one of the bureaucrats testifying said the reason they were implementing all these rules was to protect the employee from the employer. At the time we had six employees and I could not imagine wanting to hurt one of them. They're like family. And I know most small business owners feel that way. But that was the perception of the bureaucrats, so I started out wanting to change that perception.

What does the board do?

We review new rules and regulations for business impact. We're also a forum for small business to voice their concerns. We try to reduce government impact on business. We've had a really tough time. There's been a lot of resistance. It's something new for a lot of the state people to understand.

Have you seen any progress?

We just had some success on water quality rules at the Department of Health. We got calls from small businesses with concerns because the state had changed rules from the federal mandate, so it came to our board to review the state rules. The businesses had objected that these things exceeded the federal guideline. They were upset for some very good reasons, one of them being that it would probably shut down every diversified farmer in the state. We reviewed them and asked for changes. We said all we'd approve was the federal guideline, they came back and we made some changes. Then Health Director Bruce Anderson pulled everyone who'd been working on it back to talk about it and he had the bureaucrats pull the rules back. So it was a win, and without us it wouldn't have happened. We haven't been popular with the administration in the past, but I've been given to understand with this administration we're very popular. So I see that as a sign of hope.

What are the issues that come up most often?

The way the Department of Land and Natural Resources handles leases, labor issues, care homes have come before us. They want to protect the safety of our elderly, but they are concerned about having supposed solutions imposed that are not economically viable.

What are your top priorities as a board member?

To maintain the integrity of the board so it keeps the focus it was intended to have. In the past, we've gotten off track every once in a while. We're not there to play Legislature, we're not intended to be lobbyists, we're there to make businesses a better place.

Why have you put so much time into this endeavor?

I'm haole. It's been a long road to walk for me in this state. I've been a small business operator for 25 years and I've found this state to be the most difficult place to do business that I've ever seen and I've done business in Canada and in three other states. But it's a wonderful place to live. We have one child who was raised here and we were committed to making this the place we would live, our retirement home. But to do that we needed to be able to pay our mortgage. When we got here, profit was a bad word. You couldn't say privatize. A lot has changed. It bothered me that there was this select group that was entitled to be in charge. It was about who you were related to or what high school you went to. That offends my sensibilities. I think it should be a good and viable place for everybody.

Inside Hawaii Inc. is a conversation with a member of the Hawaii business community who has changed jobs, been elected to a board or been recognized for accomplishments. Send questions and comments to:


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