From Pau Hana to a cup of Joe

Randy Francisco

Special to the garden island

The 2012 legislative session ended a few weeks ago with a few hundred bills approved by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor. Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce members and the public will have an opportunity to hear and meet with Gov. Neil Abercrombie to discuss with him bills for which the business community is interested in providing input at the Chamber’s Annual Governor’s Luncheon May 31.

So far, about 100 bills became law, including one key bill important to the business community — unemployment insurance legislation that set the maximum weekly benefit amount at 75 percent of the average weekly wage from April 1 to Dec. 31, 2012. The 2012 schedule for the employer contribution rate was set at schedule F.

As a result, businesses were anticipated to save about $400 per employee due to the rate not increasing. In this economy, every dollar counts, especially when you add up some of the costs of being in business such as health benefits, compensation, business insurance, cost of goods sold, utilities, payroll, and, yes, taxes, taxes and more taxes.

Kaua‘i’s many small businesses are still struggling to get through another year of a recession and work toward eventual recovery. They are not only paying bills, but keeping employees and providing products and services that residents and visitors will purchase. These are the everyday challenges that our business community faces.

Thankfully, the businesses do what they do best, and as I said before, they give generously in donations, goods and services, time, talent and even dollars. The successful 8th annual Golf Scholarship Tournament, on the heels of the Visitor Industry Charity Walk and Kaua‘i Humane Society fundraisers held last week, are two examples.

While the good news recently reported by the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (hawaii.edu/uhero) and Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (hta.org) indicated that tourism is indeed rebounding, the remainder of Hawai‘i’s overall economy, especially on the Neighbor Islands, is lagging.

For Kaua‘i, recent data indicate that accommodations were at about 85 percent occupancy, while unemployment trended down toward 6.3 percent. Additional flights by Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines (via their new Maui hub) contribute to a positive increase in much-needed airline seats.

However, it is the construction sector that is gradually waking up from its slumber and creating jobs. Signs of construction activity in Kaua‘i’s building and trades universe include Koloa Landing’s vertical construction of another building and the soon-to-be-completed public housing on the main road toward Kukui’ula Shopping Center. The renovation of the former Waimea Dispensary across from Waimea High School by Easter Seals will also include space for the Kaua‘i Police Department.

Recent commercial real estate activity including the sale (again) of the Coconut Marketplace to kama‘aina company ABC Stores presents some renewed opportunities. For those of us heading West and South, the highway road construction from the bridge up to Puhi is also nearing completion.

Like the road which has had its own interesting set of twists and turns, our economy is gradually heading to the trajectory of moving out of the recession and towards continued economic recovery.  Don’t ask when the highway will be pau — when it’s pau, it’s pau and pau hana for that project will eventually lead to the buildout of the Safeway Shopping Center as another construction and retail activity.

Hopefully, the shopping center’s ground breaking will be at the start of 2013, if not by the end of this year. That will lead to creation of  construction and eventually retail, foodservice and other jobs.

The installation of about 25 electric vehicle recharging stations throughout the island, primarily at resorts and Kukui Grove Shopping Center, will provide the approximately 20 electric vehicle owners nearly a one-to-one ratio for low- or no-cost energy.  In a recent phone call, I learned that it cost about $7 to recharge a vehicle, and, I don’t mean by the gallon. For now, those lucky enough can have a free recharge at one of Kukui Grove’s two stations until the mall is pau with its introductory phase. And, at the County, which has some e-vehicles, several recharge stations are operational, but only for County vehicles.

To learn more about Kaua‘i’s economy, free feel to attend the Lihu‘e Business Association’s free monthly continental breakfast meeting this Thursday from 7:30 – 9 a.m. at Duke’s Canoe Club & Barefoot Restaurant. Ken Stokes will be the featured speaker.

No registration required. Just stop by for a cup of Joe, homemade muffins, good company and a good way to start your Thursday morning.

• Randy Francisco is president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at info@kauaichamber.org

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