Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Walmart dominates isles as retailer and employer

By Lee Cataluna


More people on Oahu now work for Walmart than Hawaiian Electric or Bank of Hawaii.

On Kauai, Walmart is the fifth-largest private employer, topped by only the Hyatt Poipu, the contractor that runs the PMRF Naval Base, Wilcox Hospital and Princeville Resort.

On the Big Island, Walmart is No. 2. More Big Island people work at Walmart than at KTA stores, Four Seasons or the Mauna Lani.

Pacific Business News released its annual Book of Lists in December. The comprehensive research guide to Hawaii business tells a fascinating tale about Hawaii's economy. It's no surprise that agriculture and manufacturing are not major employers in the islands. It's no surprise that the No. 1 employer is the government. Still, the degree to which Walmart has come to dominate the retail scene in only 18 years in Hawaii is startling. Here, where we have fertile soil, reliable rain, year-round sun and plenty of mouths to feed, we instead turn to Walmart to feed, clothe and employ us.

This is true, of course, of the entire United States. Next to the federal government, the largest employer in America is Walmart. Walmart is the largest employer in Mexico and much of Latin America, as well.

But in the islands, where we like to think of ourselves as influenced by all of the Pacific, one would hope we'd have more intriguing ways to put people to work. Like maybe making something or growing something.

That famous "dollar bill" local TV commercial of the 1980s, if revisited today, might show a Walmart employee cashing a paycheck and then bringing that dollar right back to Walmart to buy cereal in an endless closed loop.

The PBN Book of Lists shows Walmart employing 3,470 people statewide. To compare, Hawaiian Airlines has 3,800 employees in Hawaii. There are almost as many people wearing the blue smocks and stocking shelves as there are keeping all those daily flights safe and on time.

Also in the top 10 of private Hawaii employers is Securitas, which provides contract security services. Sugar and pineapple and even tourism have given way to discount stores and security guards. This is Hawaii in 2011. What are we supposed to show the tourists? We already know the answer. They buy their made-in-China Hawaii souvenirs at Walmart and have them inspected by security guards at the airport.

Some of the old-timers will remember when groceries could be bought on credit at the company store. Even up to the 1960s, some Hawaii plantations and ranches ran general stores where workers and their families could get things like a pound of flour, a can of coffee or a gallon of kerosene on credit against their monthly pay.

Now the company store is the entire company.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at


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