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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Maui escapes 9/11 fallout

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — Maui County dodged much of the economic pain felt elsewhere in the state from the 2001 recession and the economic fallout of the Sept. 11 attacks, a top Hawai'i economist said yesterday.

Leroy Laney said Maui efforts to market itself as an upscale resort paid off.

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Leroy Laney, Hawai'i Pacific University economics professor and consultant to First Hawaiian Bank, told a Maui Chamber of Commerce forum that Maui's economic strength comes from a combination of less reliance on Japanese visitors, strength in real estate and steady performances by the high-tech and agriculture sectors.

In addition, Laney said, Maui's efforts at developing a brand identity as a first-rate, upscale resort destination paid off.

"This attracts U.S. visitors that are more affluent, and thus bigger spenders, than other Hawai'i or worldwide destinations,'' he said.

He noted that surveys show more people on the Mainland have heard of Maui than Waikiki, and in Japan, Waikiki ties Maui for first place.

Maui has also been able to cultivate an image of being more business-friendly, he said.

That's not to say all aspects of the island's economy are booming.

Maui has been struggling to regain the number of jobs that existed before the Sept. 11 attacks, Laney said. For the first half of 2002, the level of nonfarm jobs was running 1.6 percent below the same period in 2001, with most of the weakness in the tourism sector.

While the unemployment rate has dropped to where it was before Sept. 11 — in the 4 percent range — some of the improvement in that area is because of drop-outs in the labor force, Laney said.

Like the state as a whole, tourism has been Maui's weakest economic sector. But Maui is still in better shape than O'ahu, he said.

Maui regained its pre-Sept. 11 levels of Mainland visitors by this summer, he said, and it was hurt less than O'ahu by the drop-off in Japanese visitors.

"That's the main reason Hawai'i's recent recession was concentrated in Waikiki,'' he said.

Laney also offered these points on Maui's economy:

  • Retailing: Most retail statistics have been higher in the past several years, but these are distorted by new entrants such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the Shops at Wailea.
  • Real estate: Low mortgage rates have brought strong activity that Sept. 11 hardly affected.
  • High-tech: Maui's high-tech sector was not affected by Sept. 11.
  • Agriculture: This sector was probably least affected by Sept. 11. Larger employers such as Alexander & Baldwin's Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. actually rehired some apprenticeship graduates that were laid off by the visitor industry.