The souring sugar industry knocked the wind out of Kaua’i and a significant
segment of the island’s population with the disclosure that Amfac Sugar Kaua’i
is going to close. Getting ready for that day and recovering from it will be
just as gut-wrenching.
Plunging prices for sugar on the world market,
Amfac’s low crop yields and the company’s other business interests combined to
bring on last Friday’s closure announcement. The news wasn’t a surprise. The
company had furloughed many of its workers earlier this year, and an eventual
shutdown of the Amfac sugar operations here had been considered a virtual
certainty for some time. Nevertheless, the sinking feeling from the kowledge of
what’s coming next is being experienced islandwide.
As early as November,
about 400 of Amfac’s employees will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate will
probably zoom up to 8 percent when the Amfac axe falls. Individuals and
families that depended on Amfac paychecks must scramble for other means of
paying for food, clothing and housing, as well for other bills.
the gloom are the business tremors that Kauai’s other sugar plantation, Gay
& Robinson, is feeling from Amfac’s demise. Although G&R says it wants
to stay in business, its officials readily admit it will be hard-pressed to run
the sugar storage terminal in Nawiliwili by itself. Amfac has shared in the
cost of that operation.
Another fallout of Amfac’s fallback is the partial
reliance of Kaua’i on the sugar company for electricity. Ten percent of the
island’s electrical power is generated by the Amfac plant and sold to Kaua’i
Electric. That’s a significant hole in the electricity supply of an entire
Sugar once played a kingly role on Kaua’i. The Amfac abdication
of its hold on the throne is further proof of how much the sweet industry has
changed – and of how Kauai’s economy must change, too. Efforts to diversify and
expand the island’s employment base and industries must continue and even
intensify. Kaua’i can’t wait for the sugar bowl to be empty.