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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Big Island economy still growing

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — It's the little things that count, at least when it comes to Hawai'i County's improving economy.

Although growth has eased a bit, it is continuing for a second year, two economists reported yesterday.

The reasons are as diverse as potted plants, health care and aquaculture, said Marcia Sakai, University of Hawai'i-Hilo business program director, speaking at First Hawaiian Bank's 27th Business Outlook Forum for the Hawai'i Island Chamber of Commerce.

Sakai said the bright spots include:

• 15 percent growth in potted orchid and foliage sales from East Hawai'i.

• 18 percent growth over three years in high-tech businesses, many launched at home by semi-retirees.

• 90 percent growth in health-related jobs since 1990, highest in the state. The island's budding health-care industry has been fostered in Waimea by semiretired medical inventor Earl Bakken.

• Aquaculture and research in medical marine activities in Kona, Keaukaha and Pana'ewa.

Construction work to satisfy the luxury home explosion in West Hawai'i also has helped keep the economy moving, but Sakai warned that the burst of building activity will be hard to sustain.

There's also promise for Hilo through the proposed U.S.-China Center that would focus on conferences, lodging and retail activities at UHH, and the $55 million Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center.

Co-presenter Leroy Laney of Hawai'i Pacific University said inflation is not a problem in Hawai'i and that job growth will be "fairly healthy" this year.

Though tourism won't match record-breaking 2000 figures, "2001 may still be the second best of record," he said.

The loss of visitors on the Big Island this year has been more than compensated for by the 195 percent increase in cruise ship passengers, projected to reach a record 170,000 this year.

Sakai and Laney take their presentation to the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce today, with a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at the Keauhou Beach Hotel.