Impact of ‘Iniki hit businesses here harder than 9/11 terrorism aftermath

In the days following the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce President Mamo Cummings telephoned Chamber members, asking them if they were in the same “panic mode” as O’ahu business owners.

She found local business owners slow to lay off workers, especially small business owners with small staffs, indicating they thought short-term adjustments would get them through the temporary tough times.

“And I was really proud of that,” Cummings said.

Especially compared to the long-term physical and economic damage inflicted by Hurricane ‘Iniki nine years to the day before the terrorist attacks, business owners were confident about their short-term survivability a year ago, she said.

“‘Iniki had more profound impacts,” Cummings said. “When you don’t have electricity, water, roads,” how could an event that had only short-term economic impacts on the island compare to ‘Iniki’s damage? she asked.

“It’s the mindset that has been keeping Kaua’i very strong, and it’s that resiliency, because of ‘Iniki,’ ” said Cummings.

Around 1997 and 1998, Kaua’i business owners were feeling confident that the recovery was proceeding well, but that was five and six years following ‘Iniki’s visit, she recalled.

Obviously, ‘Iniki had more sweeping effects on the island, especially the business community, than did the events on and immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Cummings said.

After the terrorist attacks, though there was a great deal of uncertainty pertaining to U.S. response, further planned attacks and other items, on Kaua’i the physical facts were that the island still had water, electricity and roads, so was in better shape than after ‘Iniki, she observed.

“That mindset is that we’re going to get past this, we need to make some temporary adjustments,” she said.

Only a few businesses went out of business after the terrorist attacks, and they were heading that way before the attacks, she said.

At Ching Young Village in Hanalei, owner Mike Ching initiated a cardboard recycling program after the terrorist attacks that he told Cummings wouldn’t have been started if that attacks hadn’t happened.

That program saves the center between $400 and $500 a month.

“In regards to commerce, I think we’ve had to take another pause because of September 11th, but I think it’s coming back,” she said.

“As far as what the businesses tell me, they’re optimistic about the numbers that they’re seeing as far as visitors and hotel occupancy. We’re cautiously optimistic, and that’s a key word though, ‘optimistic,'” because Cummings said she has had a couple conversations with people who aren’t optimistic about their businesses’ futures.

Overall, though, the consensus is that the terrorist events effectively were just “a little wrench” that created only short-term difficulties that have been overcome, she noted.

The majority of business owners felt, “We’ll get through it, better than the other islands,” she said.

Economists from both First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii have statistics that bear out those feelings, Cummings commented, including hotel-occupancy statistics that show Kaua’i alone among the counties with a jump in July occupancy rates compared to July 2001 levels.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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