Joblessness plunges in 1st quarter

Economic indicators for Maui County offered some positive news for the first quarter with unemployment rates driven down by increased job opportunities and continued growth in the visitor market, according to an analysis by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

The one negative in the report, released Friday, was a decrease in total private building permits for Maui County – the only county in the state to show a decline. Private building permits decreased $104.5 million, or 67 percent, compared with the same quarter last year.

Maui County’s unemployment rate was down 1.3 percentage points to 5.6 percent, compared with the first quarter last year, the report said. The county saw a net gain of 1,700 jobs to 68,500 jobs, or a 2.5 percent increase, in the first quarter of 2013 from the same quarter of 2012.

The number of unemployed fell by more than a 1,000 to 4,300 in the quarter, compared with the first quarter of 2012.

Job gains were logged in “other services” (600 jobs), accommodation (400 jobs), food services and drinking places (400 jobs), natural resources, mining and construction (250 jobs), and transportation, warehousing and utility (200 jobs).

Sectors losing jobs were information (100 jobs), retail trade (100 jobs) and manufacturing (100 jobs).

Government added 150 jobs in the quarter with a 5.6 percent increase in hiring for the quarter for the federal government and 1.6 percent in state government – with the largest labor force of all the governmental entities in the county at 6,200 workers, the report said. County hiring remained static for the quarter.

Tourism continued to hum in Maui County with visitor arrivals by air up 5 percent for the quarter, but that was the smallest increase of the four counties. Oahu’s visitor arrivals by air were up 7 percent; Hawaii County, 5.3 percent; and Kauai, 6.8 percent.

Visitor days rose 2.6 percent in the quarter for Maui County. Visitor arrivals by air from international destinations were up nearly 13 percent to 147,036.

Mayor Alan Arakawa said earlier this month that the recent double-digit increases in the Maui visitor market will be tapering off as the island reaches its capacity to accommodate visitors.

On building permits, Maui County was seeing a shift in the landscape with large percentage declines in the quarter in additions and alternations (83.6 percent) and commercial and industrial (66.4 percent) but an increase in the residential sector (47.7 percent).

Looking ahead, the department predicts continued positive economic growth throughout the year, outpacing the national growth rate, throughout the state. Additional growth is predicted in 2014.

The current forecast for gross domestic product for Hawaii is 2.4 percent growth in 2013 and 2.3 percent growth in 2014, the department said.

For jobs, the department projects the unemployment rate to fall 1 percentage point to 4.8 percent this year compared to 2012 with the number of nonagricultural wage and salary jobs expected to grow 2 percent this year statewide.