Yuki Lei Sugimura – Life of the Party

January 31, 2012, 10:49 AM HST · Updated January 31, 11:00 AM
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By Susan Halas

Yuki Lei Sugimura

Yuki Lei Sugimura heads Connec LLC, a Kula-based firm that’s made a reputation for coordinating large local events. Photo courtesy Y. Sugimura.

Wailuku native Yuki Lei Sugimura took an appointed county job and turned it into an unusual career that puts her at the center of many of Maui’s largest and most colorful community events.

From 1999 to 2002 Sugimura was an economic development specialist in the administration of former Maui mayor James “Kimo” Apana. In that capacity she helped to organize and develop a variety of small festivals and special events in Wailuku town.

She enjoyed the work and she was good at it. When Apana left office she started her own company. The Kula based firm, Connec LLC, provides an eclectic mix of marketing, promotion and community relations services for many of Maui’s most popular and well-attended events. These include the monthly Wailuku’s First Friday street fair, the annual Maui Matsuri Japanese Festival, the annual Chinese New Year celebration and a host of others, large and small.

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Today these events draw big crowds: First Friday brings an estimated 2,000 people a month to Wailuku. When popular entertainer Willie K appeared on Market Street last year, that number more than doubled.

The Maui Matsuri Japanese Festival, which started as a small event in the Apana years, is now a large annual affair on the Maui College campus with attendance estimated at 10,000 over a three day period.

Willy K wows at 1st Friday

Stars like Willie K helped First Friday bring thousands to Wailuku. Susan Halas photo.

Similarly, the Chinese community New Year celebration, which began when Apana was mayor, just celebrated its 13th anniversary. Last week the event filled the Maui Mall to capacity with a crowd estimated at about 4,000.

Her company also coordinated community relations for both phases of the Market Street roadway improvements and assisted on other projects where maintaining good communications with area residents is an important function.

The role of coordinator seems to come easily to the personable Sugimura.

“I’ve always liked to organize,” she said. “In school I was class president, head cheerleader and had other leadership roles. For me it seemed like a natural progression from the Office of Economic Development to doing this as a career.”

What does it cost to hire her? “Well, she replied, “it’s hard to put a price tag on what we do, because each situation is different. Normally companies or organizations contact me and we work it out individually.”

early poster maui matsuri

The Maui Matsuri Japanese Festival began as a small event in Wailuku. Today it is a three day annual event at Maui College that draws a crowd of 10,000. Susan Halas photo.

Though she makes it look easy, these things don’t just happen. They have long timelines and many planning meetings happen behind the scenes. According to Sugimura, “People are the most important ingredient of successful events.”

To keep things going year after year, networking skills are essential. While many of her best known projects originate in the non-profit sector, she stressed that relations with volunteers, local companies, donors, vendors and patrons play a key role in making things happen.

“As the years go by you get to be friends.

“Perhaps the most challenging part of what we do is the funding,” she said. “With all these big festivals we usually end up helping in that area. We’re always looking for assistance; that can be money, prizes, donations.”

Particularly in difficult economic times that has meant “tightening our belt and stepping forward.”

feeding lion

The annual Chinese New Year Festival just celebrated its 13th anniversary. Y. Sugimura photo.

If scrounging around for money is her least favorite part of the job, what she likes best is “being there when the event is happening and we can all see what we planned come together the way we planned it.”

Though it takes countless helpers to make it look effortless, she credited Brian McCafferty of Teens on Call for his  participation in many of her projects and named her husband Takashi “Tak” Sugimura as her favorite volunteer.

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