Celebrating 20 Years of Top 250

May, 2003

This August marks the 20th anniversary of Hawaii Business’ Top 250 list, our signature ranking of companies with the highest gross annual sales. In anticipation of this milestone, we launched a series of stories in March recognizing the businesses that have graced our list over the years. This is the third in the six-part series.

Eastern Eats
Twenty years ago, Eddie Flores was the owner of Sun Pacific Realty, a local company that brokered smaller entrepreneurial businesses. In February 1983, Hong Kong-born Flores told Hawaii Business that the year prior, his company had sold eight businesses to Hong Kong investors and that he expected his sales to Hong Kong investors to “at least double” by year’s end. Flores had high hopes for marketing his services to the Asian colony and said Hong Kong investors were primarily interested in small grocery stores, jewelry and gift shops and, coincidentally, restaurants.

These days, Flores, a restaurateur himself, is focusing his attention not on Eastern Asia, but on the U.S. East Coast. In March of this year, Flores, president of L&L Drive-Inn/L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, opened a branch of his ubiquitous plate-lunch pit stop in Manchester, Conn. It was L&L’s debut on the East Coast, but for Flores, who has opened 49 L&Ls statewide since 1975 and 20 on the Mainland since 1999, expansion is nothing new. Flores says he’d like to open more L&Ls on the East Coast but will probably avoid heading south. “They’ve got a taste for a different kind of barbecue down there,” he says.

Cornering The Cable Market
In 1983, Oceanic President Don Carroll shared his innovative ideas for the state’s premier cable television company. The company had only recently experimented with two-way data transmission via cable lines (“computers talking to each other,” as Hawaii Businessexplained it), but Carroll had high hopes for cable’s potential to handle high-speed digital data transmissions and grab a share of the market. He was in good company. He had the backing of Walter Dods Jr., then-executive vice president of First Hawaiian Bank and a director of Oceanic, who said there would be a day “when many people will be banking from their homes, thanks to two-way in cable.”

In the 1990s, Oceanic installed a hybrid fiber-optic coaxial plant as part of a $73 million upgrade to its cable signal delivery system, to serve its growing consumer base. Today, more than 350,000 Oceanic subscribers are not only banking online, but are shopping, dating and downloading music over the Internet, thanks to Oceanic’s Road Runner high-speed cable-modem service. In addition, Oceanic was the first American cable company to introduce Video On-Demand and is the state’s third-largest Internet services provider. According to the Hawaii Business 2002 Top 250 list, the company had $211 million in gross annual sales and more than 650 employees, compared with $18.4 million in sales and 250 employees in 1982.

The Mighty Yen
In February 1983, Hawaii Business examined public and private sentiment toward foreign investment. A 1981 state report had provided an unofficial listing of major foreign investments in Hawaii, totaling $1.1 billion. Not surprisingly, Japan accounted for $706 million, or about 64 percent, of those transactions, followed by Hong Kong and Canada. “[Those figures represent] only the tail of the whale. … Experts say the actual total could be three to four times that amount, with much of the unreported money hidden in real estate, often behind someone else’s name,” the story reported. “The state doesn’t appear overly worried by the current level of foreign investment – hidden or reported – and … wouldn’t welcome the headaches of having to administer a law requiring foreign companies to disclose their investments here.”

Japanese investment in Hawaii continued to escalate for more than a decade after this story was written, peaking at $13.9 billion in 1994. That year, Japan constituted about 87 percent of the $16 billion in total foreign investment. Since the Japanese bubble burst in the early 1990s, the country’s investment in Hawaii has steadily declined. According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, foreign investment totaled $11.3 billion in 1999, with about 83 percent from Japan.

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Jacy L. Youn and Ronna Bolante