Hawai‘i Island Business Report 2022
Mining challenges for opportunities, the Hawai‘i Island business community continues to turn adversity into innovation.
Aloha and welcome from the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce.
Our island community continues to rebound from the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Buoyed by the easing of COVID-19 rules and restrictions, a lower number of positivity cases, and an increase in visitor counts and consumer traffic, our island slowly continues to bounce back.
Working with the knowledge gained over the past two years our local businesses, community leaders, social service organizations, educational institutions and government agencies are collaborating to find immediate and long-term solutions which will cultivate opportunities for growth and sustainability for this and the next generation.
Let’s continue to stay positive, treat each other with fairness, compassion, respect and acceptance, support our local businesses and remain vigilant as we continue this comeback. It’s these foundational values which others around the state and nation find so endearing and memorable about our community.
We applaud Hawaii Business Magazine for once again showcasing our beautiful island. We hope you enjoy this Hawai‘i Island Business Report and discover how our community works together to make our island home special.
Miles Yoshioka, Executive Officer, Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce
Aloha and welcome!
As the voice of West Hawai‘i’s business community, the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce provides leadership and advocacy for a successful business environment on the west side of Hawai‘i Island. With 430 members, our organization brings together the business community as a strong, united voice to address key issues on our island and in our state.
For 2022, our priorities include housing, water development and astronomy. Based on the concerns of our members, we are pushing for more housing projects at all inventory levels in West Hawai‘i. This includes focusing on permitting processes as well as infrastructure development. We are also exploring new water resource development for housing and commercial endeavors. We continue our strong support for the astronomy industry on Maunakea noting significant scientific discovery, educational outreach and economic impact. We believe the University of Hawai‘i is the best option to manage Maunakea.
To serve our members this past year, we amplified our advocacy efforts by leveraging virtual connections and building island and state-wide relationships. Now with pandemic restrictions lifted, we are continuing this momentum by adding face-to-face opportunities. For example, as a neighbor island chamber, we resumed in-person meetings with legislators and testified at the Hawai‘i State Capitol this legislative session.
Looking ahead, we are resuming in-person events with our Annual Golf Tournament, Gubernatorial Candidate Forum, Annual Membership & Installation Luncheon, and monthly Business AfterHours. As an organization that brings our community together, we are filled with joy as we plan these important gatherings in West Hawai‘i.
Mahalo to Hawaii Business Magazine for this special section on Hawai‘i Island!
Wendy J. Laros, President and CEO, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce
“We’re in some interesting times,” observes KTA Super Stores president and CEO Toby Taniguchi. “It’s not the status quo.” You can sure say that again. An unpredictable pandemic, epic clogs in global supply chains, fluctuating numbers of visitors, and a shrinking state population has businesses on Hawai‘i Island rejiggering, rethinking, and yet again, adapting to change.
“Every business has shifted, and a lot of changes have now become standard in their business,” says Miles Yoshioka, executive officer of the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce. He says businesses have fully embraced digital marketing, for example, and are more flexible with employees. “Many companies are allowing employees to continue to work remotely, helping them address various needs, including childcare and elder care.”
Core Strength: The Secret Weapon
The past several years have been challenging for our island, particularly for East Hawai‘i and the district of Puna,” says Peggy Farias, the president of W.H. Shipman, Ltd., and the great-great-granddaughter of company namesakes William and Mary Shipman. “Some of our farmers and other business partners were just recovering from Hurricane Iselle when they were impacted by the 2018 lava flows, and then the covid pandemic hit. During this time we’ve learned to focus on the core values of our company and family that promote resilience: diversification, flexibility, creativity, and relationships.” She says that the relationships built with employees, tenants, customers, and neighbors over the years “have really helped us get through the hardest times.”
Jason Fujimoto, president and CEO of HPM Building Supply, is the fifth generation of his family to lead the company, and also says that having a strong foundation helps in trying times. HPM was started 101 years ago and has what Fujimoto calls a strong corporate culture. Still, in 2019, the company fortuitously went through a refresh on its core values and mission, using tools such as a facilitator, leadership team meetings, and employee surveys. “It wasn’t about the new so much as it was to distill and deepen what already exists in the organization,” he says. “What do we do? We enhance homes, improve lives, and transform communities.” The company distilled it further into “Heart, Character, and Growth,” which now appears on posters in the company, on shirts, and even on nametags. Fujimoto credits this clarity for giving the company “wind at its back” during tough times. HPM also had the benefit of foresight: the company had moved away from phone lines for meetings and had implemented Zoom and created “Zoom rooms” with big screens, just prior to the pandemic era.
HPM Building Supply
For more than 100 years, HPM Building Supply has served Hawai‘i’s building needs. A humble lumber mill on Hawai‘i Island persevered through World War II and two tsunamis to grow into a statewide building resource, with 14 locations across Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Kaua‘i and O‘ahu. HPM provides lumber, building materials, manufactured products, steel framing, kitchen and bath products and design services, pre-designed house plans and more. We continue to innovate and expand our product selection and services to help Hawai‘i build and live better.
As a local, fifth-generation, family-run business, we remain committed to our founding values and to taking care of our customers and each other. HPM was one of Hawai‘i’s first businesses to establish an employee profit-sharing plan in 1959 and, in 1977, became one of the first companies in the state to be employee-owned. Today, we are 100% employee-owned by the more than 450 owner-employees, who share in our company’s success.
Our team is passionate about their work and dedicated to HPM’s mission to enhance homes, improve lives and transform communities.
Savvy Staffing Ideas
Finding and retaining employees is a nationwide challenge, but especially true on Hawai‘i Island. “We talk about our kids going away for college and then not being able to come back for job opportunities,” says Yoshioka. “There has been a lot of push-back on creating some of the high-paying industries here, such as those related to astronomy, and it’s the same thing with farming.” Not everyone is going to be an astronomer or a farmer, but these high-tech industries create whole ecosystems of other jobs, such as positions in engineering and human resources, says Yoshika. To help foster the careers of post-college workers on Hawai‘i Island, his organization created a young professionals group, which conducts social and networking events and creates leadership opportunities.
At KTA Super Stores, Taniguchi notes, “We try to take care of the mental and physical health of our team—PPE for the spirit, as it were.” KTA provides perks like trainings such with Glenn Furuya [president and CEO of LeadershipWorks, a business and professional growth company], competitive pay, and an inclusive philosophy. “Even in the language in our newsletters, we talk about inclusion, diversity and equity,” he says.
HPM Building Supply was one of the first companies in the U.S. to do an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, starting in 1977, and became 100% employee owned in 2006. However, Fujimoto says that on its own, “an ESOP is a financial mechanism. Just having it doesn’t translate into a benefit,” he says. “You need a culture of communication. It truly is a dynamic new model of capitalism, creating generational wealth across the whole organization, not just top leadership.” To ensure owner-employees feel engaged, HPM shares all financials with employees, and regularly hosts update meetings.
W.H. Shipman offers tuition assistance and paid time off for college courses and various training and seminar opportunities. “We have a small, tight-knit staff and were very lucky to keep everyone hired and have only minimal turnover since the start of the pandemic,” says Farias. She adds that an Employee Assistance Program, introduced several years ago, has proven to be a relatively low-cost investment that has really made a difference to the staff.
Success Story: DA BUX
DA BUX (DOUBLE UP FOOD BUCKS) launched as a pilot program in 2017 on Hawai‘i Island, with four farmers’ markets, two KTA Super Stores and one community supported agriculture program participating. Here’s how it works: SNAP customers get a 50% discount on Hawai‘i-grown produce, helping stretch food dollars, and the retailer is reimbursed by non-profit agency The Food Basket, using federal government grants and matching community funding. Says Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of the Food Basket. “SNAP households can buy more locally produced healthy, nutritious food, local farm-ers can earn more income, and more federal SNAP dollars can stimulate growth in our food and agriculture industry—it’s a triple win for Hawai‘i.” In 2021, DA BUX reimbursed retailers $1.7 million, while these reimbursements generated $7.1 million in local produce sales, and the program has now grown to 100 retail locations statewide. A new survey also found program participants had boosted their consumption of healthy fruits, vegetables and legumes, hopefully leading to better health outcomes in the future.
During the pandemic, KTA Super Stores began offering delivery and personal-shopping services, says Taniguchi. While being a smaller business and having less staff makes it challenging to scale up, he says, the company is exploring technology-based solutions.
Farias says that, “The innovations and advances in video conferencing and telecommuting technologies have been huge for us over the past two years and have especially created new ways for our far-flung family to keep in touch and engage with the business. Additionally, “We’re starting to see some innovations in agricultural land management practices, and more integration of both conservation and ag in those practices, which is also very exciting for us.”
In another challenge—affordable housing—HPM hopes to create opportunity. The median sale price for a Hawai‘i Island home was $514,250, as of this writing. “We were thousands of units short in housing supply prior to covid, and it’s only gotten worse,” says Fujimoto. “We can’t solve the crisis,” he says, “but can help move toward a better outcome.” The company is making HalePlus, a line of locally made, factory-built modular homes, preassembled and then installed on a permanent foundation. They cost about 40% less than a traditional building process, according to HPM.
Hawai‘i Island has often been described as a big island but a small town. The interconnected nature of our community means that when our employees succeed, our community benefits, and that community benefit in turn strengthens our company. By creating opportunities for our employees to develop and become more successful in their work and personal lives, we add to the strength and resiliency of our Hawai‘i Island community. It’s a great source of joy for us to see an employee take skills learned on the job and apply those skills to their own personal business or volunteer work, because we know that our small investment is getting multiplied across the community through the actions of our staff and those they impact. When we invest in human capital we are also making an investment in our community, with returns that extend far beyond our company.
The best part of living and doing business on Hawai‘i Island is that we truly are a community,” says Farias, “with all of the values that are implied: work together, help your neighbors, take care of those less fortunate, support our keiki … To be able to go into a business discussion knowing that you share values and a common goal, and that community will be a central theme in that discussion, is both beautiful and empowering.”