Forecast: Big Island economic recovery begins

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

WAIKOLOA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Big Island economy, which suffered more economic shrinkage than other parts of the state, has stopped shrinking and is now in slow recovery, First Hawaiian Bank economist Leroy Laney said Thursday.

"A bottom has emerged," Laney said. "It won't be long before job gains become consistent."

In separate appearances in Hilo and Waikoloa, Laney acknowledged that economic downturns are always deeper on neighbor islands than on Oahu where the economy is more diversified. But he sees signs of improvement in Hawaii County.

"Look for slow future declines," he said. "We're already seeing signs of recovery in tourism."

Laney said Hilo will benefit from the creation of 500 jobs when Target and Safeway open new stores, but he said tourism would have rebounded faster if Hilo hotels had been renovated more aggressively.

He said the one-year lag time in property valuations will mean net declines in Big Island property tax revenues this year and next, prolonging economic pain since Hawaii County relies on property taxes for 60% of tax revenue.

Bright spots in the Big Island economy, Laney said, include NELHA - the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority next to Kona airport, a state-operated campus for biotech enterprises that seems to attract new tenants whenever it loses old ones - and the astronomy sector, which will see 140 construction jobs plus contractors as a new telescope is built. The project still needs more approvals and has some opposition.

Laney also sees job creation from Big Island Carbon, close to opening at Kawaihae, Puna Geothermal, planning expansion, and Maui-based Pacific Biodiesel, which has broken ground on a plant in Keeau.

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