PO’IPU – Obviously, there is no opportune time for a sugar plantation to close
But, the timing of Amfac Sugar Kaua’i’s announcement to cease
agricultural operations on the island comes at time when the economy is
otherwise robust, and the labor market is improving, according to a First
Hawaiian Bank consulting economist.
Dr. Leroy Laney, economics and finance
professor at Hawai’i Pacific University, speaking at the Kaua’i Chamber of
Commerce quarterly membership meeting and annual Kaua’i economic outlook
gathering at the Sheraton Kaua’i Resort here, said 400 jobs is not a lot,
similar to the number of jobs lost if a major hotel on the island underwent a
Only those hotel jobs would come back.
The land to
soon be removed from sugar by Amfac’s announcement is substantial, and federal,
state and local government officials, as well as private-industry personnel,
have mobilized to determine how to keep much of the land in
Where the Amfac lands are concerned, “It could be that
forestry is a solution,” said Laney. “It won’t employ lots of people, but it
will keep it green.”
It will be difficult to find a replacement crop or
crops for sugar that is as labor- and land-intensive as sugar, he
The remaining plantations in the state, Gay & Robinson at
Kaumakani, and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) on Maui, were the
ones Laney figured would survive.
“I’ve always felt their advantage is
having the most fertile lands for sugar in the world,” Laney said of G&R.
“That will keep them in business.”
Maui’s sugar operations have a compact
shape, and parent company Alexander & Baldwin has put lots of money into
improvements at the Pu’unene mill, allowing the Pa’ia mill to close, he
The diversification and consolidation of operations there are good
ideas that may keep sugar on Maui for quite some time, he said.
and island’s major industry, tourism, fuels the strong Hawai’i economy, Laney
In its marketing efforts, the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau has
concentrated on niche markets, like golfers, and those seeking romance and
“One reason for this targeting is to focus on length of stay
rather than sheer numbers of arrivals, and to emphasize quality rather than
quantity,” Laney said.
“It is hoped that higher-spending, longer-staying
quality visitors will alleviate some pressures in a small island environment
that can comfortably accommodate only so many visitors on-island at one
The presence of the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility at
Barking Sands makes Kaua’i the island in the state second-most dependent on the
military, behind O’ahu, Laney said.
“It is hard to overestimate the
economic importance to Kaua’i of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the west
end of the island. The range also imparts to Kaua’i its own comparative
advantage in attracting firms and development funding,” he
“Experimental agricultural funding may gravitate to the Big Island,
high-tech money for incubator facilities or education may find its way to O’ahu
or Maui, but Kaua’i serves as a magnet for established firms that are connected
in some way as contractors or subcontractors to the missile range,” Laney
Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at
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