Manufacturing given boost

HANAPEPE — It took the staff of Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Salts about an hour to mix a 60-pound batch of spices.

But after receiving grant money from the state last month to offset the costs for manufacturing equipment, the Hanapepe business can now mix 300 pounds of spices in three minutes.

“This grant was everything for us,” said Laura Cristobal Andersland, owner of Salty Wahine. “We got it and this is going to help us pay for our equipment and by next year we can quadruple our production.”

Salty Wahine is one of 51 Hawaii companies that were recipients of a nearly $2 million manufacturing grant to streamline, improve and optimize operations thanks to funding from the High Technology Development Corporation through Innovate Hawaii’s Manufacturing Assistance Program.

The $1.9 million will help with expenses related to manufacturing to foster economic and-or employment growth in the state.

The majority of the funds, $1.7 million, were awarded for equipment purchases, while the balance will support energy efficiency measures, employee training, and feasibility studies to help improve manufacturing facilities.

Nine Kauai businesses were awarded over $270,000.

The MAP grants cover up to 20 percent of the total company investment in the project, capped at $100,000. The companies themselves must fund the balance. The total investment in these 51 projects by the recipients amounts to more than $31 million.

“The good thing about the program is we’re giving away money to manufacturers and helping them to expand business,” said Robbie Melton, HTDC executive director and CEO. “This is helping to grow the manufacturing industry in Hawaii.”

About 60 companies applied, Melton said.

In order to qualify, companies submitted documentation to support their purchase and their intended purchase, Melton said.

Salty Wahine was awarded about $45,000 to fund machinery for mixing, filling, sealing as well as a conveyor system to move product from the mixer to the filler.

“Because we’re able to ramp up production, we can take on the clients that have been wanting us for a long time,” Andersland said. “We couldn’t really accommodate them because of the quantities that they wanted.”

Because production will increase exponentially, Andersland said, Salty Wahine will be able to expand.

“Our staff will be busy shipping,” she said. “Everybody is going to move over to the shipping department. We projected that we were going to take on two more people.”

KaiKini Bikinis out of Kapaa is another recipient of the grant, receiving about $5,000.

“Our overhead is so much more than our competitors because we pay our employees well and we do health insurance, and shipping raw materials out here is much more for us,” said Taryn Rodighiero, KaiKini Bikinis owner. “And shipping our machines out here costs us more.”

The funding will help the bikini manufacturer to offset costs for seven existing industrial sewing machines as well as a recent machinery purchase, Rodighiero said.

“We were debating whether or not we should get an (embroidery machine that’s thousands of dollars),” she said. “When we heard about this grant, we were able to go forward and also help pay for machines that we already had.”

Rodighiero, whose company has been in business for five years, stressed the importance of vamping up and expanding manufacturing in the state.

“Hawaii used to have more manufacturers and apparel,” she said. “It’s nice to keep everything that we can made in Hawaii and also made in the USA. If we can get the stuff made here, the quality’s better, and it gives people jobs.”

The program, which began in March, was prompted when legislators passed SB1001 this year, which appropriated state funds for manufacturers.

For fiscal year 2017, Melton said there will be $1 million awarded to Hawaii business. She hopes to get additional money the year after.

“We’d love it, that after this year’s bill, that this becomes ingrained in our budget so we don’t have to go after every year to compete for it,” she said.

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