Good, if still ‘guarded,’ in Kaua‘i business universe

The recent unemployment number for Kaua‘i at 7.9 percent and, finally, at just 8 percent, was a marginal welcome sign of how the jobs sector is doing.

However, as we all know — it ain’t good enuf!

While the retail and tourism sectors continue to recover, and even some parts of the island are “robust,” in speaking with business owners, their confidence level is still “guarded optimism.”

This is quite understandable, as there were some false starts during the past year, such as last spring, which was interrupted by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and, other factors outside of Kaua‘i.

The sleeping giant of the construction and building trades sector has yet to fully wake up and, like the rest of the state whose businesses have been battered by the mortgage-meltdown crisis, we are looking to the state legislative and executive branches to pass Senate Bill 2012 to create about $500 million in construction spending to stimulate this sector and the economy with a “multiplier effect.”

At last week’s “Lawmakers Listen Kaua‘i” hosted by state Reps. Derek Kawakami and Dee Morikawa of Kaua‘i, we were also visited by members of the House leadership, including Majority Leader Pono Chong, Vice Speaker Joey Manahan, Finance Committee Chair Marcus Oshiro and Majority Floor Leader Cindy Evans.

The visit also included state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka and state Sen. Ron Kouchi, who rounded out the four Kaua‘i legislators. What was clearly stated by the House leadership was that the Kaua‘i legislators have a solid voice at the Capitol and are in unison on the majority of bills that impact Kaua‘i.

While there were only 75 minutes available for the Q & A portion of the evening, the unasked/unanswered questions were brought back to Honolulu and the attendees will eventually be contacted about their questions.

Question topics ranged from the environment to housing, taxes, non-profit/non-government organization financial support and support for schools, to name a few of the range of questions.  

Unfortunately, the House leadership wasn’t able to also present information including mid-session highlights, especially on the topics of economic revitalization and business, and the state budget.

 The legislature will soon go into Conference Committee sessions, where House and Senate members review bills for negotiation. One of the earlier achievements of the ‘Leg’ was the passage of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) bill, which kept the current UI rate schedule at its existing level, saving businesses at least $400  to $500 per employee per year.  In this tough economy, every nickel and dime matters, especially when businesses are still trying to catch up or recoup their losses of the past few years.

The recent announcement of Allegiant Air launching service at the end of June from the Mainland to Hawai‘i provided some nice and unexpected news only because the airline would add additional capacity from cities where current carriers don’t have a large presence or not at all in terms of direct service to Hawai‘i —  such as Fresno, Calif.

Other good news are additional business openings including Kaua‘i Kitchen in Kalaheo (a return to nostalgia of days gone by), Sugar Mill Cupcakes (Roxy Square) in Old Kapa‘a Town and small business retailers yet-to-be announced with their openings (probably in time for summer).

 In addition to the recent alumni of the 2012 U.S. Small Business Kaua‘i Awardees class was the recognition by the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i at its 2012 Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year Award event held in Honolulu in which Lesther Calipjo (Garden Isle Collision Repair LLC dba Kaua‘i Foreign Cars) was recognized as the Kaua‘i winner.

While Lesther did not bring home the bacon (state), he certainly brought back the adobo! As the only Neighbor Island honoree, it was an opportune time to remind the state Chamber that the Neighbor Islands, especially Kaua‘i, are very much alive, still in business and still providing goods and services for residents and visitors of Kaua‘i. Selamat Po and Mabuhay.

• Randall Francisco is president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce.


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