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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Maui gets good economic news

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — When it comes to Hawai'i's economy, Maui is apparently no ka 'oi.

That's according to Hawai'i Pacific University economics professor Leroy Laney, who says the Valley Isle likely has already climbed out of the recession in which the state as a whole remains mired since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The consultant to First Hawaiian Bank told a Maui Chamber of Commerce forum yesterday that visitor arrivals to Maui from direct U.S. Mainland flights never dropped much from last year's levels, even after the terrorist attacks.

In fact, he said, all three Neighbor Island counties registered recent domestic visitor arrival totals that matched or exceeded numbers from a year ago.

Although Honolulu continues to lag, he said, statewide arrivals from the Mainland for the week ending Dec. 28 were just 1 percent below the same week of December 2000.

The big difference is international arrivals, with Japanese tourists continuing to stay away. Waikiki is much more dependent on Japanese visitors, he said, so the recession is concentrated on O'ahu.

That's not to say everything is fine on Maui, Kaua'i and the Big Island. The visitor industry took a big hit everywhere, he said.

Laney said Maui tourism had started to slow even before Sept. 11 because of a weakening Mainland economy, falling hotel occupancy rates and business group cancellations.

But none of the Neighbor Islands has been hit as hard as Honolulu since Sept. 11, he said. And of the Neighbor Islands, Maui appears to be faring best. Laney said Maui was the only county to add jobs in the month after the attacks.

Real estate activity also seems to be holding up on Maui, despite a national downturn, he said.

And while California's high-tech industry has nose-dived, Laney said Maui's tech market has held up.

"The Maui Research & Technology Park has had vacancy rates under 10 percent for the last 2 1/2 years. It houses startups for no longer than three years, but tech firms still come to Maui for lifestyle considerations,'' he said.

Laney said the state overall could begin recovering by midyear, after the Mainland. But key economic indicators might not return to pre-Sept. 11 levels until almost 2003.

This year Laney predicts that visitor arrivals will rise 2.5 percent over the total for 2001; inflation will remain low at 1.3 percent; jobs will be down about 0.5 percent; and real gross state product may be up by about 0.5 percent.