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.
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 voiceofmolokai.org.
For a PDF copy of "Molokai: Future of a Hawaiian Island," visit HawaiiBusiness.com/molokai
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