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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 25, 2001

Kohala Coast 'essential' to economy

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

The 13 major hotels and resorts on the Big Island's Kohala Coast directly employ 10 percent of the island's total non-agricultural work force and contribute more than $45 million a year in state and county taxes, according to a study commissioned by their association.

The Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Hotel & Resort is a four-star hotel on the Kohala Coast, where the majority of the Big Island's rooms are located.

Advertiser library photo • September 1998

In the first report to look specifically at the economic contribution of these properties, the Kohala Coast Resort Association found that they provide 6,263 jobs with a total annual payroll of $169 million. In 2000, they paid $8.4 million in real property taxes to the county and roughly $37 million in general excise and transient accommodation taxes to the state. Their $2.5 billion investment over the past 35 years averages out to about $71.5 million a year.

"They're essential to the sustainability of the economy," said Paula Helfrich, president of the Hawai'i Island Economic Development Board. "You're looking at the high-end and the largest employers. That's the corporate employment base now."

Tourism makes up about 50 percent of the Big Island's estimated $2.6 billion economy, Helfrich said. The Kohala Coast houses the majority of the island's available rooms, with its 4,300 representing about 44 percent of the total inventory.

Agriculture supplies about 28 percent of the island's gross product, Helfrich said, followed by high tech with 26 percent. Government and other endeavors make up the balance.

The study projects an annual average growth of 2 to 3 percent in visitor arrivals for the Big Island, and notes that the Kohala Coast "has more room for growth than almost any other coastline in Hawai'i."

The report, prepared by Hawai'i Pacific University economist Leroy Laney, comes as a debate ensues on the Big Island over land development.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has proposed designating as conservation land several hundred acres on the Kona side and in Ka'u intended for development.

The proposals are being considered by the county planning commission and will go to the County Council sometime this fall, said county planning director Chris Yuen.

The council has the final power of approval. None of the parcels is related to members of the Kohala Coast Resort Association.

Thos Rohr, resort association president, said the report is unrelated to the land debate, and was intended to establish an economic benchmark for the Kohala Coast's hotels and resorts.

"Our real interest was to see what we've done to date and where we're going," said Rohr, who is also chief executive officer of the Waikoloa Land Co. "It's a simple message: We want people to know we care about the island and we're helping provide the fuel that will help keep the island a great place to live."

He added that the study will likely be repeated every five years. He declined to disclose the cost of the study.

Kim's focus has been to improve the quality of life on the Big Island, with the aim, he says, of making it a better place for residents and tourists.

"Our mission is to make Hawai'i island a nice place to live," he said after meeting late last week with the resort association on various issues. "Not good, not fun, but a nice place to live, meaning a feeling of security, things are positive in the environment. If we do that, then it will be a very nice place to visit."

Correction: The Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Hotel & Resort is on the Kohala Coast. A caption in a previous version of this story misidentified the name of the resort.