This article was recently published in UH Hilo’s Student Newspaper, Ke Kalahea.  It is being re-produced for our HICC newsletter with permission by HICC Student Member, Lauren Okinaka.

A membership in the Hawaiʻi Island Chamber of Commerce (HICC) offers college students opportunities to network, gain experience and explore careers.

HICC has served as the “voice of business” in East Hawaiʻi since 1898. It represents nearly 300 businesses, professional organizations and individuals statewide. The Chamber’s purpose is to assist businesses and promote the island of Hawaiʻi. It provides leadership via services and advocacy for the business community while promoting the economic well-being of the island as a whole.

“We are a great reflection of our community,” said Miles Yoshioka, HICC’s Executive Officer. “Our main mission is to support our member businesses and community as a whole.”

The Chamber also offers information on how to do business in Hawaiʻi, provides relocation information, promotes tourism by providing visitor information, and publicizes the services of member businesses.

The Chamber offers membership to students enrolled in post-secondary institutions and taking nine or more credits per semester. Annual dues are $25 for UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College students.

“We take care of our members,” Yoshioka said. “Not only businesses and nonprofits, but we take care of our student members by trying to get them involved and to understand what they’re looking for to give them opportunities.”

Student members have the opportunity to help organize and run Chamber events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a few student members from UH Hilo helped with events and were noticed by business members. “They were spotted by their performance and how they presented themselves,” Yoshioka said. “After graduating, they received job offers.”

The Chamber accomplishes most of its work through its standing and special committees. Committees are open to all members and member business employees. There are five standing committees: Economic Development, Government Affairs, Finance, Membership, and Social. There are also four special committees: Military Affairs, Administrative Professionals’ Day Luncheon, Whitey Rose Memorial President’s Cup Golf Tournament, and the Young Professionals Program.

The Chamber and its committees host events for their members and the community. Past events included the Virtual Whiskey Tasting via Zoom, the Legislative 101 presentation via Zoom, and the Member Appreciation Holiday Drive Thru. HICC is hosting the Whitey Rose Memorial President’s Cup Golf Tournament from Feb. 13 to March 14 at Makani Golf Club in Kailua-Kona.

Like most businesses, HICC has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Events that used to be face-to-face are now virtual and committee meetings are conducted using platforms like Zoom. Chamber events like the Virtual Whiskey Tasting allow members to network and socialize, even if it’s behind a screen.

The Chamber has increased its online presence to stay connected to members and the community. “[We post] videos from events so people can see that we’re still active and there’s also ways they can connect even if it’s not in person,” said Taylor Escalona, HICC’s Administrator of Membership and Marketing.

Escalona earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from UH Hilo in 2016. She first became involved with the Chamber as a part-time administrative assistant right after graduating from Hilo High School. She worked at the Chamber throughout her five years at UH Hilo. “I have been very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people and learned from so many leaders in our community,” Escalona said.

During her senior year at UH Hilo, she explored different paths she could take with her business degree. “Using the connections I made from the Chamber, I was able to sit down with a couple people from different industries and learn about what a typical day looked like and what they loved most about their job,” she said. “This gave me some really good insight on what the real world was like and helped me narrow down my choices in terms of what I wanted to do.”

“Ever since I started attending UH Hilo, I wanted to work for a prominent, local company and the Chamber definitely helped with me being able to stay home and contribute to my community,” Escalona said. “I knew the Chamber had a lot to offer, especially for people like me who were just starting out in their career.”

By staying connected to the business community through her involvement in the Chamber, she was able to get a job at HouseMart Ace Hardware/Ben Franklin Crafts right after graduating from college.

Escalona continued to be involved with HICC by joining as an individual member. After three years at HouseMart, she returned to the Chamber as their Administrator of Membership and Marketing. “As a student, you never know where these opportunities could lead,” she said.

The Young Professionals Program Committee (YP) is another way for students to network. They organize and host events for younger members and their employees. They focus on networking events and topics relevant to members ages 21 to 39.

YP aims to develop other young business leaders. They host the Lunch & Learn Survival Skill Series, Exec-Connect events, and pau hana networking events. “I really like this program because it’s a bunch of people around my age,” said Escalona. “We’re all just starting our careers, so moving forward together and learning from each other is something that is really great.”

For more information or to join the Chamber, call (808) 935-7178 or visit

About Lauren Okinaka

Lauren Okinaka is a student member of the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Young Professionals Committee. She is a junior majoring in communication with a minor in English at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

She first became involved with the Chamber as a volunteer in 2019.

Okinaka is a staff writer for Ke Kalahea, the student-run newspaper at UH Hilo. She also is a student intern that writes weekly feature articles for UH Hilo Stories, a publication of the Office of the Chancellor. Her career goal is to secure a job that will allow her to give a voice to the voiceless and tell stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.