In glimmer of hope, economist predicts parts of state’s economy could soon reopen

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 8:23 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A top state economist is optimistic that some businesses could reopen in a month.

Carl Bonham, director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, told lawmakers Monday that a survey conducted with the Chamber of Commerce collected data from 623 businesses.

"They expect to reopen and staff up as soon as it’s safe to do so. In fact, 60% said they could return to almost full staff immediately. The rest of their staff would be phased in as tourism begins to return to the islands,” Bonham reported.

[Read more: Report: Layoffs amid shutdown disproportionately impacted lowest-income workers]

Dr. Mark Mugiishi, of HMSA, used charts to show what is first needed: Widespread testing and contact tracing.

Workplaces also need to be reconfigured to ensure social distancing.

Tourism will almost certainly not be part of the initial reopening phases. That’s the hardest hit industry.

The UHERO survey showed businesses providing accommodations are down 83.3%, retail companies are down 76.3%. Those providing food service saw a drop of 58.1%.

Many associated with the tourism industry reported zero revenue.

And while most of the 221,731 people now unemployed are on Oahu, the neighbor islands have higher percentages of jobless because they have a higher dependency on the visitor industry, especially Maui.

The hardest impacts are being felt by the ones who live paycheck to paycheck.

"The most vulnerable workers, of course, are the ones that are being impacted the most, so part time jobs were much more likely to have been have been lost than full time jobs and the lowest income workers were the most likely to have lost jobs,” Bonham said.

And UHERO’s report shows the Small Business Administration Payroll Protection Program, a forgivable loan program, may not be enough to sustain many businesses but it could help those part-timers.

State Rep. Della Au Belatti said child care options need to start preparing so parents can go back to work if businesses do indeed start the reopening process in one month.

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