Hawaii’s job market is on pace to grow this year for the first time since 2007 and the visitor industry is expected to post solid gains despite a drop in Japanese tourists, according to an upbeat economic forecast the state released yesterday.
Increased economic activity is expected to boost job growth by 1.8 percent, or 10,700 positions, this year as many businesses resume expansion plans put on hold during the recent recession, said the report from the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. That’s up from a 1.3 percent rise DBEDT predicted in its most recent forecast just three months ago. The number of jobs had fallen in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
DBEDT said it expects visitor arrivals to grow to 7.35 million this year, up 3.8 percent from 2010. The estimate was revised downward from the 4 percent gain forecast in February before the disasters in Japan sharply reduced the number of tourists from that country.
At the same time, DBEDT is predicting that overall visitor spending will be stronger than previously expected because of a number of factors, including a strengthening of the yen that likely will induce Japanese who do come to spend more.
DBEDT’s assessment of the job market was echoed by several employers at yesterday’s WorkForce Job Fair who said they were ramping up hiring.
"We’re seeing more openings than ever before," said Debi Merwick, a recruiter for Bishop & Co., a Honolulu-based professional recruiting firm that also provides human resource consulting and outsourcing. Bishop & Co. provides temporary workers to companies who don’t want the employees on their payroll and direct hires who become employees of the company with which they are placed.
Merwick said many companies that Bishop & Co. work with began adding to their payrolls last summer after a long drought in hiring.
"The thing that picked up first was the direct hire," she said. "Companies either hadn’t been back-filling vacancies or they had cut too much. Our direct hire placements went through the roof in the second part of last year. It got really busy."
DBEDT is forecasting the number of nonagricultural payroll jobs to grow to 603,900 across the state this year, up from 593,200 last year.
"We are pleased to see jobs are growing again in the areas outside of tourism, such as information, professional and business services, and educational services," DBEDT Director Richard Lim said in a news release.
Even with the projected increase, however, the 2011 forecast is still far below the 624,900 jobs that existed in 2007 before employers began cutting payrolls.
Employers’ strong interest in the job fair is an indication that hiring is on the rise, said Beth Busch, executive director of the event held at Blaisdell Center three times a year. There were 163 employers and about 7,000 job seekers at yesterday’s fair, she said, up from 135 employers and about 5,900 job seekers at the fair in January.
"Tourism is creeping back. We have a lot of hotels and tour companies here. And all of the rental car companies are back in. They haven’t been here for awhile," Busch said.
For the first time, the job fair had a "green" section devoted to companies and organizations in the alternative energy business.
Pacific Biodiesel, a Maui-based company that converts waste oil from restaurants into biodiesel that can be burned in cars, said it is hiring four people as it develops a sales team for the first time.
One of the hires will be on Hawaii island, where Pacific Biodiesel plans to open a plant in November capable of processing 5 million gallons of biodiesel a year, said Beth Mathias, marketing director. In addition to using waste oil as feedstock, the company also plans to process oil-rich jatropha beans grown on 250 acres in Keaau, Mathias said.
The Solar Training Institute, a California-based company that offers classes in design and installation of solar photovoltaic systems, said it has trained about 25 workers since expanding to Hawaii in January. The company trains employees of existing construction and electrical contracting companies that want to expand into the solar business, and individuals who want to get the expertise to work for a solar company, said Devin Ruiz, president and founder of the Solar Training Institute.
"We look for communities like Hawaii where training is needed," Ruiz said. "In order for companies to grow in this industry, we need a better product and a safer environment."