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Islanders’ businesses boom

By Dan Nakaso

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:51 a.m. HST, Apr 05, 2011


The number of companies owned by Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders increased at a faster rate here and nationally than business growth overall from 2002 to 2007, and small-business advocates said yesterday there’s reason to believe they continue to thrive despite the down economy.

In the five-year period leading up to the 2008 global economic collapse, the number of businesses owned by native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders jumped 31.1 percent across the country, compared with a 17.9 percent increase in all U.S. firms, the U.S. Census Bureau reported yesterday.

In Hawaii the number of businesses owned by Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders increased 36.2 percent compared with a 21.3 percent rise in all businesses between 2002 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau.

The bureau’s next survey of Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned businesses will cover the period from 2007 to 2012 and won’t be reported for several years afterward, said Lee Wentela, chief of the bureau’s economic census branch company statistics division.

Dirk Soma, president of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, said he expects that the percentage of Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned businesses will dip in the next Census Bureau report because of the global economic collapse that began in 2008 and hit Hawaii hard in 2009 and 2010.

But many of the construction-related companies reported in the 2002-2007 census are small and nimble enough to have moved into different specialties, such as installing photovoltaic systems and other areas related to alternative energy, Soma said.

And those firms that remain in construction continue to find federal subcontracting jobs in Hawaii and Guam, he said.

“They are products of the recovery,” Soma said.

The 1,325 Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned companies that specialized in construction generated the largest amount of sales in 2007 — $698 million — the Census Bureau said.

A much smaller group of 234 companies focused on wholesale trade but had the next largest volume of sales, $138.7 million, the Census Bureau said.

The $6.5 billion worth of total receipts that Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned companies generated in 2007 represented a 51.6 percent increase from 2002, according to the Census Bureau.

That kind of revenue will help shape the economic policies and fortunes of a sovereignty entity that eventually emerges for native Hawaiians, Soma said.

The strong numbers reported yesterday “shows the resiliency of the entrepreneurial spirit in native Hawaiians,” Soma said.

H. Wailana Kamauu Jr., president and CEO of Honolulu-based American LED and Energy, said he believes that many of the Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned businesses grew out of former employees who saw the slowdown coming in the economy and started their own companies.

“They took opportunities,” Kamauu said.

Challenges particularly remain for the smallest Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned businesses, such as access to capital and the struggles to expand and hire more employees, he said.

But overall, Kamauu said, the Census data for Hawaiian- and other Pacific Islander-owned businesses illustrate that their future is “very vibrant and very bright,” adding, “The opportunities to grow in Hawaii are very good.”






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