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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2007

Vegas seeing more Hawaiian transplants

 •  More whites, fewer Asians in Hawaii

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Of the two U.S. counties that saw the largest increase in Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders last year, only one of them the Big Island is in Hawai'i.

The other? Clark County, Nev., home to Las Vegas and a growing number of Island transplants gambling on cheaper home prices and a more reasonable cost of living.

Both counties saw their Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander populations grow by roughly 900 people from July 2005 to July 2006, according to Census Bureau data released yesterday.

The numbers don't indicate whether the Clark County population increase was due to births or newcomers from Hawai'i, but previous Census reports have noted the area has been a magnet for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the past five years, with the number of residents estimated at more than 17,000.

Tamar Hoapili, who left Honolulu for Las Vegas in 1997, suspects the population of Islanders is undercounted.

"It's unbelievable," she said of the influx of former Hawai'i residents. "Initially the draw was the economy and lifestyle, but only in the last five or six years have Hawaiians been planting their roots here."

Hoapili works as community relations and video production manager for Cox Communications and is active in the 100-member Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, which sponsors cultural events, genealogy classes and a newly created canoe club. She said most transplants from Hawai'i talk of eventually returning to the Islands, no matter how long they've been living in Las Vegas, which has become known as "the ninth island."

"I've been here 10 years now and I still consider Hawai'i home," she said.

Francis Ganon, 41, started the Web site www.alohavalley.com shortly after moving to Las Vegas six years ago. The Web site provides information on businesses catering to Islanders, entertainment and community events, and news from back home.

Ganon, a Waiakea High School graduate and Air Force veteran who now works for the Transportation Security Administration, left the Big Island and spent almost five years in Illinois before relocating to Las Vegas with his family, largely because of job opportunities, cheaper housing and a familiar feeling.

"I had some classmates here already and I came out to visit them and that same weekend there was a Hawaiian festival and I went to that. I was surprised there were so many local people up here," Ganon said. "I was living in Illinois and I was having a hard time adjusting, but when I came to Las Vegas, I could sense, 'Oh, they got some aloha spirit here.' "

He said he was able to buy a three-bedroom home for $140,000, although real estate values in Las Vegas have been fast rising, doubling or tripling home prices in his neighborhood.

Still, that's a bargain when compared with the median single-family home price on O'ahu of $640,000.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.