Oahu has faced two complete lockdowns and now four tiers of restrictions that will last for at least four months. And many business leaders are concerned the current reopening won’t be enough for many enterprises to stay in business.
In its updated September forecast, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization says it doesn’t see what it calls a “meaningful recovery” happening until the middle of next year. UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham notes that a tourism recovery of even 20% or 40% will leave every business in the sector competing in a greatly reduced market. Many will not make it and many industries in Hawaii will be unable to sustain pre-pandemic employment levels.
Given all that, Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce says the chamber will “continue to advocate for further government support for businesses that are not able to reopen under Tier 1, those who are operating at limited capacity, and those dependent on the tourism industry.”
Not that there hasn’t been relief. The City and County of Honolulu started a small business grant program in May, with several expansions since then. It has so far dedicated $135 million for such grants out of the $370 million the city received from the federal government through the CARES Act. But it has distributed only about $18 million as of late September. And the grants come with federal requirements that disqualify many local businesses.
Bonham and Chenoa Farnsworth, managing partner at Blue Startups, are two business leaders we spoke to who would like to see the aid go beyond reacting and more toward training and entrepreneurship support, so the employees and business owners can both better remake themselves for a very different economy.