Maui’s Business Challenges

Apr 20, 2018

Downtown Lahaina, 2011.
Credit Abhinaba Basu / Flickr

Maui business leaders say they face the same conditions as Oahu— only more so. We get an explanation of that from Pacific Business News editor in chief A. Kam Napier.

Low unemployment. Labor shortages. Lack of affordable housing. According to business leaders and county officials assembled for a recent forum by Pacific Business News, these issues — familiar to anyone in Honolulu — feel especially acute in an even smaller community.

As of February, unemployment on Maui dropped to 1.9 percent, which has businesses scrambling to find people. For example, Maui Health System is seeking fill more than 100 positions, two-thirds of which are professional jobs such as nurses, radiology technicians and laboratory technicians. Recruitment is a constant challenge for American Savings Bank, Maui Brewing Co., and Pacific Biodiesel, also represented on the panel.

And it’s not just direct hires that are hard to come by. These Maui business also need vendors and suppliers and would prefer to find these B2B relationships on-island. But that’s not always easy to do, especially when the service they need is very specific or technical, or the order is large.

For example, Garrett Marrerro, owner of Maui Brewing, has to fly in sanitary welders from the Mainland when needed — these are specialists, capable of extremely smooth welds in equipment that needs to be kept clean.

Aerial view of Kahului in 2014
Credit Robert Linsdell / Flickr

Mike Rembis, of Maui Health System, said that when its hospitals began renovations, he looked first to Maui furniture suppliers, but none could the handle volume of material needed.

Complicating both issues — the cost of housing. Just as it does on Oahu, this major expense drives off the very people these Maui businesses would otherwise employ or bring on as vendors. The median price of a single-family home on Maui, as of February, was $680,000, that of a condo, $450,000.