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June 2000

Here's some advice for those who worry about Hawaii's economy: stop whining. At this point, anyone who is still wringing his or her hands over the tough times we face is going to be left in the dust.
You don't have to be an economist to know that we're on the rebound. And we're bouncing fairly high in some sectors. The only question facing us now is how
quickly can we (as a state and as companies) take advantage of the fast-changing environment.
Consider the following: There are those who downplay the comeback of residential real estate, particularly the high-end resort properties that are selling up-wards of $1 million. They're wrong. Recently in Kona, I had a chance to talk with Marni Herkes, the president of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. Herkes has seen it all, the good times and bad. She's about as astute an observer of business trends there as anyone.
When I mentioned to her, in a rather naïve way, that there sure seemed to be a lot of construction in the area, she stared at me with a look that said, "Where have you been?" Then Marni gave me the lowdown: construction materials are hard to find; highly-skilled construction workers are even more difficult to track down; high-end residential developments are being held up for months because of the labor shortage. That doesn't sound like a downturn to me.
Or consider the case of Hilo, long considered dead in the water when it comes to business and economic development. A recent visit with a long-time family-owned small business made it clear that the tides had shifted in Hilo. The family's commercial real estate holdings and tire business are booming. The owners weren't sure why, but they sure knew it was happening. We're talking sales increases of more than 30 percent.
Julie Hugo, the hard-charging executive director of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the view. Julie recited a host of facts and figures and pointed to an influx of new business blood in the community, some of which is tied to dot.com wealth. In a digital world, these well-to-do entrepreneurs can take their talents anywhere. And a good number of them, it is clear, have chosen the Big Island as their preferred place of residence.
There's another indicator that, more than most, is sure evidence that we're headed higher, and fairly quickly. That's the Hawaii Business Top 250 rankings, which we will publish in August. We're in the final research stages, and I don't want to give it all away before our signature issue reaches subscribers. But I can tell you this:
There's been dramatic movement, at both the upper and lower ends of the Top 250. While the upper end is of considerable interest, mostly for bragging rights, it is the lower end that will receive a lot of attention this year. The cutoff to make the last spots on the Top 250 list (measured by gross annual sales) has moved much higher. In fact, it's the highest cutoff figure we've had since we began publishing the Top 250 listings 17 years ago.
We'll have all the details in August. Suffice to say it will make for very interesting reading, particularly this year.
Are these "indicators" foolproof? No, of course not. There are other indicators that times are still tough. But the fact is we're turning higher, and the companies that will be successful in the next five to 10 years will be the firms that take advantage of today's new reality. Not a reality shaped by the pain of the mid-to late-1990s.

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