Economist: ‘Close to boom years’ for Maui, rest of state

WAIKAPU – Despite continued talks among government officials of recent sequestration and looming budget woes, the economies of Maui County and the state are actually in pretty good shape, economists say.

“Last year, I was quoted in the paper as saying it’s not the boom years, but it’s pretty good. Well, we’re getting pretty darn close to boom years,” said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

He presented an economic update and forecast, based on research gathered by UHERO, at the annual Maui Small Business Awards Luncheon on Friday at the King Kamehameha Golf Club.

Tourism is expected to continue to grow at a slower but still steady pace next year; the construction industry is finally beginning to regain its footing; residential building permits are growing rapidly; homes are selling at firmer prices; and jobs are estimated to grow by 2.6 percent this year, according to Bonham.

But tourism industry growth, which was a large factor in carrying Hawaii’s economy in times of a stressed global economy, will taper off over the next few years, as hotel occupancies are reaching their maximum capacities, Bonham said. UHERO analysts expect that after a 6.5 percent growth in visitor arrivals this year, the numbers will start dropping to a growth of 2.1 percent in 2014 and 1.5 percent in 2015.

These setbacks may be offset by the rise of the construction industry over the next few years, Bonham said. Last year, residential building permits grew by more than 20 percent; median single-family home prices on Oahu rose by 8.5 percent; and condo prices increased 5.3 percent.

“Overall, it’s a fairly optimistic forecast,” he said.

The economic update, along with other portions of the program, are essential for small business professionals, said Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.

The annual event, hosted by the chamber and sponsored by American Savings Bank, drew dozens of small-business owners, banking professionals and county officials.

“Events like this give you an opportunity to network and connect with people, leverage precious time, gain access to information like economic updates . . . honor amazing small businesses and learn from their accomplishments,” Tumpap said.

Small businesses account for 75 percent of new jobs in our economy, she added.

This year’s Maui County winners included Brandon LaBonte of Ardent Management Consulting, who won the Small Business Person of the Year award; Georgia Keenan-Abilay and Michael Dupree of Blue Ginger Cafe, who won the Family-Owned Small Business award; Thomas Chou of Rainbow Tax and Financial Services, who won the Minority Small Business Champion award; and Linda Okamoto of Okamoto Realty in Lanai City, who won the Women in Business Champion award.

Three business professionals from Maui County went on to win state awards. Robert Kawahara of Kawahara + Co. won the Financial Services Champion award; Craig Swift of Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.’s Business Development Division won the Home-Based Business Champion award; and Leslie Wilkins of the Maui Economic Development Board won the Veteran Small Business Champion award.

Winners were chosen by a committee from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Hawaii District Office. Nominees were judged based on a number of factors, such as how long they’ve been in the business, how much they’ve increased annual sales, how many jobs they’ve created, community service initiatives and innovation, according to Jane Sawyer, SBA district director.

The Maui Chamber of Commerce, in its seventh year of hosting this event, will continue to celebrate and to be a resource for small businesses, Tumpap said.

“The chamber is nonpartisan, nonsectarian; but make no mistake we’re biased for business,” she said.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at