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Beyond Oahu

Dramatic changes confront the state as people increasingly favor living on the neighbor islands

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 04:23 p.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

The state will see the lion’s share of its population growth on the neighbor islands. While Oahu’s population far exceeds Hawaii, Maui or Kauai — even combined — the growth rate here lags far behind. Today, the Star-Advertiser debuts the first of three in-depth special reports planned for this year on the emergence of our neighbors in the island chain, beginning with Hawaii island.

By 2030, more than a third of Hawaii residents will be neighbor islanders, a reality that observers predict will almost certainly have repercussions big and small for everything from the state’s economy to its politics.

The migration of people to the neighbor islands has been increasing at a rapid clip for the past two decades, spurring questions about infrastructure, overdevelopment and preserving a sense of place.

Those discussions will get louder, politicians and community leaders say, as more people see the neighbor islands as a place to raise a family, take advantage of growing opportunities — especially in emerging sectors — and escape some of Oahu’s urban headaches.

“Oahu is like the big brother,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who is from Maui. With population growth, “the neighbor islands are trying to look at what works and what didn’t work. It will continue to be the growth area, we just need to do it right.”

A recently released state report on county trends notes that 70 percent of the state’s population in 2011 was on Oahu, down from 75 percent in 1990.

Within 30 years, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has predicted, about 60 percent of Hawaii’s population will be on Oahu.

The rest will be scattered across the neighbor islands, with the largest segment on Hawaii island.

The population shifts are expected to heighten perennial concerns about whether the neighbor islands get their fair share of resources — and attention. And while Honolulu will undoubtedly continue to be the state’s seat of power and government, many believe the neighbor islands will take on more prominent roles as places to do business and attract visitors.

“All of our conversations (today) are Honolulu-centric,” said Dick Pratt, University of Hawaii public administration professor and author of “Hawai‘i Politics and Government.”

“Let’s imagine the population is more evenly distributed. That would have to change. Every conversation would have to change. It wouldn’t be them (neighbor islanders) having to come here to get attention,” Pratt said.

Tsutsui said along with the growth have come growing pains — and those are expected to continue, too. Many communities, he said, are trying to grapple with the prospect of new development, overtaxed infrastructure and what they want — and don’t want — in their communities.

“Obviously whenever you have growth, you have folks who see growth as being a good thing. You have others who want to leave the country country,” he said.

From 1990 to 2011, Hawaii island and Maui saw their populations swell by 54 percent. Kauai County’s population grew by 31 percent. Oahu saw the slowest growth during the period, at 15 percent.

Eugene Tian, administrator for DBEDT’s Research and Economic Analysis Division, said population growth rates on the neighbor islands will continue to outpace Oahu’s for the foreseeable future.

Of course, Oahu has a larger population base, so the percentage growth is relative.

But he said the trend is especially important because it will mean expansion in three vital economic sectors — finance, construction and tourism.

“The visitor industry will see faster growth on the neighbor islands. There are also more housing needs,” he said. “They will all be growing faster on the neighbor islands.”

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said he sees significant opportunities for the neighbor islands amid growth.

On Hawaii island alone,he said, “We have two deep harbors, two airports, the land to feed ourselves.

“When we talk about food security, we’re talking about Hawaii island. When we talk about energy sustainability, we’re talking about Hawaii island.”

But he noted growth is not always easy — “we’re not working off a clean shirt” — and concerns about poor infrastructure, overdevelopment and congestion are real (and also growing).

Meanwhile, population growth is already having an impact on county politics, adding seats on local councils and giving growing communities greater voice.

Colin Moore, a UH assistant professor of political science who specializes in U.S. politics, said it will be interesting to see whether the growth affects Hawaii’s party politics as well.

He said many of those moving to the neighbor islands are retirees or mainlanders, who might be more right-leaning.

“That might end up creating a more conservative character on the neighbor islands,” Moore said.

But political analyst Neal Milner said while Republicans might end up picking up one or two seats in the state Legislature in coming years, he doesn’t see population growth changing the fact that Hawaii leans overwhelmingly Democratic.

Milner said county elections, however, might see significant changes because of population growth: Familiar names might lose their seats, and elections could become more competitive.

Population growth could also bring new prominence, he said, to long-held concerns that the neighbor islands aren’t getting their fair share of resources.

Tsutsui said there is already a strong perception that the neighbor islands “get left out.”

He contends that perception doesn’t jibe with facts. “The reality is the neighbor islands do get more than their fair share,” he said.

But, he added, “Sometimes it is the case that they’re an afterthought.”

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Bdpapa wrote:
That's a good thing. The neighbor Islands have the room and if they can attract businesses that can attract the next generation that's a win. The biggest key, is to learn from Oahu's mistakes.
on April 28,2013 | 04:30AM
Sunny wrote:
Reported By Bloomberg: Portland, known as the “City of Roses” for its many rose gardens, has had the fastest economic growth in the country. It is, however, dealing with a few thorns. The city has invested $1 billion in its transit service to accommodate its growth, with a new “light rail” train service to better connect neighborhoods. Census data, though, show that only a little more than 1 in 10 new workers used the transit system during the past decade. Meanwhile, traffic congestion has increased more than four times the national average.
on April 29,2013 | 07:50AM
palani wrote:
Growth rates can be deceiving. If Hawaii island grows its population from 100,000 people to 200,000, that's a 100% increase. If Oahu adds 100,000 to its 1,000,000, it's only a 10% bump. Too often, these analysts incorrectly project a linear trend for non-linear events.
on April 28,2013 | 05:28AM
fishnfool wrote:
Good point.The story makes it sound like the neighbor islands are growing like crazy but in reality the total numbers are still relatively small. The percentages don't tell the story here and I'm puzzled the author makes a big deal out of them. Most of the actual growth in numbers of population is still on Oahu.
on April 28,2013 | 06:55AM
hi96822 wrote:
yea still if your infrastructure is now being used by 2x as many people and you have not planned for it, it can have significant impacts. leave the relative comparisons to oahu out of it--well maybe when talking allocation of resources and politics but the real physical impacts are real.
on April 28,2013 | 08:10AM
bekwell wrote:
Correct. Statistics seem to always mislead the facts and that's unfortunate because used correctly it could reveal facts that could be used to improve the islands. The thrust of growth continues to drive housing costs above the average persons income so people look out to other locations. So far, Makaha is at the end of the road, but we can hear the hammers rolling in our direction.
on January 4,2014 | 03:03AM
Kuokoa wrote:
Now is the time to develop and put in place a better inter-island transportation system. We need more efficient and faster ocean transportation that the Hawaii Superferry had to offer. But some selfish people on Kauai and Maui had only themselves in mind when the fought that system. I say bring it back and bring it back soon! Even when families move to the outer, neighbor islands, theywill still maintain connections with Oahu. With the Supreferry, staying connected will become easier.
on April 28,2013 | 05:59AM
aomohoa wrote:
Oh I would love to have the super ferry back.Let's just be careful to not over develope the out Islands since they are still so beautiful. We don't want another Waikiki in Kauai.
on April 28,2013 | 09:35AM
hanalei395 wrote:
There were people on Kaua'i, who looked like malihini WHO JUST MOVED THERE, yelling to local people from Honolulu to..... "go home".
on April 28,2013 | 01:09PM
Aquarius1 wrote:
Sad, isn't it. Those invasive species and the 2nd generation transplants take root and then act as though they own the island and try to stop building of affordable housing for those who were born and raised there, the working class who have more of a vested interest in the island.
on April 29,2013 | 10:01AM
AlohaKakou wrote:
True dat.
on April 29,2013 | 04:34PM
cartwright wrote:
What are the real, current effects of the population increase on the Big Island? PUNA: fastest growing district, with no infrastructure to speak off. People move there because the land is dirt cheap (lava zone 2), in the hope of finding a job within driving distance (there's none), or expecting government handouts or being able to grow pakalolo unhindered. KONA/KOHALA: more gated communities for second homes of conservative mainland retirees, often semi-legally used for airbnb type rentals.
on April 28,2013 | 06:15AM
Slow wrote:
We moved from a Oahu to Puna about 18 months ago. You are right about jobs. Very few in Pahoa but Hilo has some. 45 minute commute though. The infrastructure is fine. Catchment water is no problem. Roads are way better than Oahu (I hear that some parts of rural Bolivia, however, are actually worse than Oahu) and we have electricity, telephone, internet. The newcomers I have met have not come here looking for work. I haven't met anyone who came here to go on welfare or grow marijuana. No doubt there are such folks buy, I believe they are found on every island. What i have found is people in Puna believe the community and the island of Hawaii are getting better. No one I asked feels Maui or Oahu are getting better. Do you?
on April 28,2013 | 08:16AM
sayer wrote:
Sounds nice. It's a place where you can have more of a reasonable middle class lifestyle and still be in Hawaii.
on April 28,2013 | 09:07AM
Bdpapa wrote:
I like where I'm at. Couldn't live in Puna.
on April 28,2013 | 09:52AM
Aquarius1 wrote:
Me, too. Different is different. Just because you choose to live in Puna, it doesn't mean other places are less than ideal. It's all relative and subjective. Just be thankful you live in paradise.
on April 29,2013 | 10:03AM
inverse wrote:
What industry do these make believe economists think will sustain growth on the outer islands? Tourism is maxed out and already straining current realurces. Are they assuming marijuana will be legalized in Hawaii and eveyone will flock to the outer islands to cultivate, distribute and export Hawaii's famous and potent Pakalolo such as Puna butter, Kona Gold and Maui Wowee?
on April 28,2013 | 01:38PM
inverse wrote:
Correction: ... straining current resources...
on April 28,2013 | 01:41PM
iwanaknow wrote:
We bought cheap (35K for an acre) land in Puna back in 1991 for our children's future since land is so high on Oahu.....now that same land is going for 8K..........go figure. In the mean time we hang on to it cause it's something we can leave the kids.
on April 28,2013 | 08:22AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Makes sense to me.
on April 28,2013 | 09:53AM
Hawaiians wrote:
Well now is the time to buy in Puna, I was just checking Craigslist and it's crazy cheap a friend just brought a house there for 100k with 2 acres land, Oahu is totally unaffordable Kauai is way over priced, it makes sense that Big Island is calling families over.
on April 28,2013 | 10:24AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
If everybody's going to the neighbor islands why build a train from an empty field to the shopping mall?
on April 28,2013 | 09:13AM
false wrote:
Every King needs a monument.
on April 28,2013 | 04:29PM
false wrote:
Kamehameha The Great has his monument in front of Iolani Palace. Mufi needed one big enough so that it can be seen from The International Space Station lol.
on April 28,2013 | 04:31PM
false wrote:
In the year 2040, i will more than likely be pushing up daisies, as I will be 17 years shy of 100. However with medical miracles nowadays, I may live until 2040. My grandma lived until 93 and my mom is still living at 83.

Looking at your numbers, 296,300 plus 232,900 plus 93,000 equals 622,200, which is concluded to be 36% of the population in 2040. This means that 622,200 divided by 0.36 equals 1,728,300 is the projected total population of our islands in 2040. Which also means that 1,728,300 times 0.64 equals 1,106,100 is the projected population of Oahu in 2040. Will we have enough water?

on April 28,2013 | 04:28PM
96706 wrote:
REALLY? We locals now can't even AFFORD to live on ANY of neighbor islands unless we came from the mainland!
on April 29,2013 | 07:37AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Certainly the representation in The State Legislature will change, based on census alone. However this is a prediction. If this newspaper is still around in 2030, we shall see.
on April 29,2013 | 03:31PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
u mention migration of people to the neighbor islands, so do u have proof that people from Oahu are moving to the neighbor islands?
on April 29,2013 | 03:34PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
u mention migration of people to the neighbor islands, so do u have proof that people from Oahu are moving to the neighbor islands?
on April 29,2013 | 03:34PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
or is it simply that more people from Oahu are moving to the mainland as compared to people on the neighbor islands staying put?
on April 29,2013 | 03:36PM
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