Opening my own restaurant, the Gochi Grill on Bishop Street, has been the most exciting and the most exhausting thing I have ever done in my life.

I couldn’t have done it without my employees. They’re the best. They work hard. They are eager to learn and they remind me of myself when I first started cooking about 20 years ago.

One of my employees has another job with a big company that offers a retirement savings program. She’s started saving and the money she saves now will be a huge amount in 40 to 50 years, when she’s ready to retire. She understands the value of saving because she’s starting to see her account balances grow.

My other employees don’t have retirement savings at work and they are not saving.

Access to an easy way to save at work is key to getting people to save. That’s why when a friend told me about the Hawaii Saves retirement savings proposal in the Legislature (Senate Bill 1374 and House Bill 1189), I told him I would support it.

A screen shot of the the Oregon Saves website.

The bills would take the first steps to setting up a public-private partnership to offer what are known as auto-IRA accounts to small businesses and employees without retirement savings programs at work. The state would set up the program, but private, reputable financial services companies would actually hold and invest the monies workers contribute.

I want to help my employees save and be successful later in life. But there’s not enough time in the day nor money in my bank to set up a payroll savings program when you are just starting up a small business.

If a Hawaii Saves program was in existence, I would be able to sign up to offer a Roth IRA savings program to my workers with contributions coming out of their paychecks at very little cost to my business.

An Oregon Model

The Hawaii Saves proposal is based on a model that is working in Oregon and that other states, including California and Illinois, have also adopted. OregonSaves started in July 2017 and already the money workers have saved is approaching $14 million. The average savings rate is 5.6 percent of their paychecks or about $100 a month. Seven out of every 10 workers offered the opportunity to start saving have opened accounts.

I know I am not the only small business owner who is not able to offer payroll savings programs. A recent AARP survey of Hawaii small businesses showed nearly two-thirds of businesses with under 100 employees do not offer savings programs at work and nearly 70 percent would offer a state-facilitated savings plan to their workers if it was available.

“Too many Hawaii workers are not saving and feel like they need to work until they drop.”

The survey found that eight in 10 small business owners agree that lawmakers should support a Hawaii Saves retirement savings option.

I worked in six restaurants before I started the Gochi Grill. About half offered some kind of retirement program and the rest did not. I’ve tried saving both ways and it is definitely easier to save if you can take the money out of your paycheck before you get a chance to spend it.

Too many Hawaii workers are not saving and feel like they need to work until they drop.

But what happens to people if they are not able to work anymore and have no savings? You can’t survive on Social Security alone. They will likely need social services like housing assistance, food stamps and Medicaid or Medicare.

That’s another reason why small businesses support the idea of the state creating access to an easy way to save at work — because we are taxpayers. I can see the cost down the line if too many Hawaii workers retire broke.

There’s a cost to doing nothing. Let’s pass a Hawaii Saves bill this year.

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