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Optimism Despite Tough Times on Molokai

Residents want businesses and jobs but also want to preserve their traditional way of life. What happens to Molokai may teach Hawaii about the costs and benefits of restraining development and creating a sustainable future.

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She envisions her Kaunakakai store as a gift shop selling new and used books and local arts and crafts, and also as a gathering place to talk story and teach traditional crafts. It will have comfortable furniture and a fireplace so people can gather. "It's the experience as much as the product," Waros says.

She attended Maui Economic Opportunity's business planning class, prepared a business plan and went looking for a loan in June 2008. She first approached Bank of Hawaii, her bank for 20 years. "They were really honest," she says. "They don't know anything about Molokai. They don't know of the last business they funded on Molokai."

She looked elsewhere. She said that other lenders told her that she had a good professional background (she had a once worked for Ritz Carlton worldwide) and a great credit score, but couldn't give her a loan because of her location. "Every single bank in the state of Hawaii had the same response: It's Molokai," Waros says. "It's not known for being successful. It's not known to support new business. There's too much trouble over there. It was a wall that I was unable to overcome. Not one of them was willing to really take a look, to really get into the numbers and study them."

Unable to secure a loan, she withdrew money from her 401(k) in October. "I'm investing in my own future," Waros says. "Where the bankers don't have faith in this island, I have tremendous faith."

Despite touch times, many people on Molokai say they aren't about to roll over and build large development projects. But they still want jobs. "This is a lifestyle we're talking about, a need for an island people to protect the lifestyle that is quickly diminishing from these Islands,” Mateo says. “Are they not business friendly? I don’t think so. Are they antigrowth and development? Perhaps. But the reality is our community understands the need to grow so we can keep our children at home and we can offer them opportunities. … We have to make the tough choices. The people who live on Molokai live there because they choose to.”

As cliché as it sounds, Mateo and many others say people choose Molokai because of the communal support and a widespread belief that money isn’t everything. “Our island is a very simplistic island,” Mateo says. “We make do with what we have and we still live the old-time practice.”


Saint Damien Will Draw Tourists

The Roman Catholic Church will name Father Damien, the revered priest of the Kalaupapa leprosy colony, a saint this year. His revered status is sure to attract more tourists to Molokai, but officials say the cap of 100 visitors a day to Kalaupapa, set by the state Department of Health, will remain.



As with the rest of the state, visitor arrivals to Molokai have plunged. In 2008, 69,500 people visited Molokai, down 16.4 percent from 2007. The statewide dip was 10.6 percent, but Molokai’s drop wasn’t as severe as Kauai’s (20.4 percent), the Big Island’s (18.4 percent) or Lanai’s (17.9 percent).





Molokai's Vision Statement

Years of opposition to projects like Molokai Ranch's Laau Point project have earned Molokai a reputation of antidevelompent activism. A new document, "Molokai" Future of a Hawaiian Island," takes a new approach. Instead of the community defending itself against developers' plans, this document aims to lay out what is acceptable to the people of Molokai.


"What we did with this document was set out to define the personality of Molokai," says Todd Yamashita, editor and owner of The Molokai Dispatch and one of the document's authors. "If Molokai was a person, these are the values that we want to see for Molokai."


"Molokai" focuses 30 years of planning documents from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Maui County and even Molokai Ranch and adds community input, Yamashita says. It targets seven areas: perpetuating Hawaiian culture; establishing an education center; promoting agriculture and aquaculture; maintaining environmental stewardship; continuing a subsistence lifestyle; controlling tourism expansion; and establishing self-governance.

According to the document, "The people of Molokai have a clear vision for the island's future based on the values of pono and aloha aina. ...This document brings many decades of planning into focus, and - using these past community plans as a foundation - it attempts to answer a question many have asked the Molokai community: "OK, so what do you want?"

The document arose out of frustration with decade after decade of the same story: outside corporations want to develop Molokai's lands with a promise of economic stimulus. Eventually, the activist community opposes and the developer leaves town, leaving many jobless.

The authors area group of Molokai residents under the age of 35, including Malia Akutagawa, Kauwila Hanchett, Napua Leong, Kahualaulani Mick, Steve Morgan, Joshua Pastrana, and Todd Yamashita's brother Matt and Todd's wife, Noelani. Activist Walter Ritte and Karen Holt, executive director of Molokai Community service Council, served as advisors.

Another group, E Ola Molokai, advocates a more welcoming attitude toward business and says that antidevelopment activists intimidate those who disagree with them into silence. Leaders of the group were not available for comment, but their Web site is

For a PDF copy of "Molokai: Future of a Hawaiian Island," visit



Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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Mar 12, 2009 08:02 am
 Posted by  Thomas Anderson

The author of this article is too kind and not at all realistic: In my view from 37yrs of experience being a resident and then having to move away b/c of no jobs, the prevailing attitude of the people on Molokai is one of hostile isolationism overtly laced with racist attitudes. "Don't let the (expletive) haoles come in and steal our `aina!" describes typical attitudes of those wishing to keep the island pristine from the outside world at the cost of stunting its economic development and future. As a result, residents have to poach and steal resources from the very land (still owned by Molokai Ranch, btw) they protest to protect. They justify this blatant trepass with excuses like, "We're Hawaiian and it's our anscestor's land," or "Nobody going care, da ranch stay out of business anyways." With no incentive for industries to enter and combative attitudes all around, troublemakers/"activists" like Walter Rittee might very well get to be just like the characters on "Lost": An island all to themselves and no where to go. Which is precisely what they really wanted all along.

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Apr 6, 2009 08:01 pm
 Posted by  captainmolokai

The battle between the small group of activists and the Molokai Ranch (MPL) is ugly on both sides and is hard to ignore. There are ugly signs on fence posts everywhere spreading hatred in every direction. The Molokai Dispatch is nothing more than a political arm of the activists filling the pages with hatred and discord. No one is trying to solve the problems or come up with a realistic plan for the island. My experience talking to other Hawaiians - from other islands - is that think the people of Molokai are a crazy group - lazy and living off the funds supplied by the rest of the state. They ride around at night shooting from their pickup trucks at the axis deer that are thriving on the island. They throw their trash on every pristine beach, too lazy to pick up their own waste. The homelands are a piece of appalachia in the middle of the Pacific. A rich Hawaiian is ohne with two cars on blocks.

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Feb 2, 2010 05:20 pm
 Posted by  rudedog

Forty seven years ago I married a girl whose family lives on Molokai. Those years allowed me to experience this unique place and appreciate the mindset of its equally unique people. I never had the feeling anyone felt disadvantaged or thought they lived substandard lives. All the individuals I met were kind, unselfish and eager to share the bounty of living in such a beautiful place. They genuinely love and embrace the island and the simple lifestyle. They will somehow make things work out.

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