Survey: Kaua‘i is good place to start a small business

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Rise Above Ink tattoo Artist Kamu, Shiloh Kaneakua, and Sabastian UJano-Akau throw some shakas up.

  • Courtesy of Tiffany Dick

    From left, Aloha Dance Studio instructors William Balbin, Amanda Tanigawa, Tiffany Dick, Kellie Hatto, Ashley Korth and Sunny Magbaleta celebrate the conclusion of a successful recital.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Sweet P’s Owner Penchie Cabasag smiles in front of her products.

LIHU’E — A recent study from SmartAsset, a New York Financial company discovered that Kaua’i is one of the top islands in the state to start a small business. Maui comes in at first, with Kaua’i at second, Hawai‘i Island at third and Oahu in last.

“Not only is the island a beautiful place to live, but consistent and focused efforts to expand and diversify the economy paired with resiliency and community spirit of the population encourage entrepreneurship,” said Jane Sawyer District Director of the Small Business Administration in Hawai’i.

Sawyer continued, “While the traditional backbone of the economy in agriculture and tourism continues to evolve and adapt to keep up with 21st century preferences, opportunities can be found in new hospitality venues, creating different value added agricultural products and exports, and agricultural or amazing eco-tours.”

Aloha Dance Studio has two studios one in Kukui Grove Center and their main office next to Gary’s Auto Service in Lihu’e. They provide dance classes for keiki and adults as well. Owner Tiffany Dick said the spirit of ohana on Kaua‘i is one of the things that makes running a small business worth it.

“In my industry of customer service I am able to continue to share the feeling of belonging and encouraging others,” Dick said.

Sweet P’s is located in Hanama’ulu and is a hidden gem in the old Post office building. A well stocked Filipino convenience store with food, bags and other Filipino goodies. It got its name because the owner’s mom was always sweet and her first name was Pining.

Business owner Penchie Cabasag says she loves having a business on Kaua’i because of the mixture of Filipinos and locals.

Cabasag said, “There is plenty of Filipinos in Kaua’i, locals and visitors stop by too. They are so nice. It feels great to provide Filipino foods to our community.”

Next door to Sweet P’s is a tattoo shop called Rise Above Ink. There are three local tattoo artists: Owner Shiloh Kaneakua, Kamu, and Sabastian Ujano-Akau.

“I love the Aloha Spirit on Kaua’i, and the local support. Being that I come from Kaua’i, born and raised here, I know a lot of the customers,” said Kaneakua.

Starting a new business maybe rewarding, but also faces challenges along the way.

“The common ones that we see are having access to funds to get started and then grow, being aware and complying with regulations and registrations such as GET (general excise tax) and other taxes, unexpected costs and start up delays,” said Sawyer.

Kaua’i small business owners have similar and different views of struggles they face.

“As much as I love what I do the overhead to run a business is becoming very expensive. So many small businesses are being forced to close due to high rents. Owning a building or building on a piece of land is way out of financial range fro almost very small business on Kauai now a days,” Dick said.

Kaneakua said, “The expenses, overhead cost; other than that, there is enough competition to go around.”

Valerie Aficial-Yoza, daughter of Sweet P’s owner Cabasag said, “One of the struggles is that the store hides in a building where people can’t locate where the shop is. Also, when my mom had her store in Puhi everyone knew my mom.”

According to Sawyer, entrepreneurs are jumping on the different opportunities like Hubzones to garner government contracts that can be operated effectively from remote locations.

“Other emerging industries such as high tech and renewable energy are building a solid foundation and contributing to a more vibrant local economy and engaged workforce. We need to continue to offer the tools to support this,” Sawyer said.

Even with challenges, small business owners love the Kaua’i community and find it rewarding.

For Dick, being a dance instructor provides a connection to the community and income.

“I get the privilege to watch the keiki grow through elementary through high school and now also get to watch them get married and have a family of their own,” Dick said. “Many of them continue to keep in contact as they continue to grow through life and are now bringing their children to classes.”

Cabasag said, “I feel proud, I feel like I am helping the community by being here ready to serve Filipino foods.”

3 Comments
  1. Robert "Tito" Edwards February 11, 2020 7:04 am Reply

    Another opportunity for entrepreneurs is to start an online business. Almost no overhead & the tax deductions are great for your income tax.

    We just need to find the right online business that will allow many of us former-locals to return to our home, the Garden Island.

    Waimea, Class of 1988


  2. Nonetheweiser February 22, 2020 2:41 am Reply

    As a small biz owner on Kauai for the past 25 yrs., and having managed several businesses on the mainland prior to that, it needs to be said that a MAJOR challenge here not mentioned above is the labor pool. Unemployment is at around 2%, and regardless, employees have always tended to gravitate to the larger businesses—chiefly hotels—that can provide better perks and benefits as well as the perception of long term stability. So if you’re a mom & pop or can employ family members you may have a viable business model. If not, and especially when “surf’s up,” you may find yourself rolling up your sleeves and leaving that paperwork for another day.


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