comscore Column: With Hawaii businesses struggling to survive, now is the wrong time to raise wages | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Insight | Island Voices

Column: With Hawaii businesses struggling to survive, now is the wrong time to raise wages

Three months ago, local businesses took the drastic action of shutting down in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our state. Many of these businesses did so, not knowing when they would be able to reopen, or if they would even be able to do so.

It’s often said that the most difficult times bring out one’s true colors. We’ve certainly seen that over the past few months. Hawaii came together in the face of adversity to showcase the best of our community. Working together, we ensured that our friends and neighbors continued to have access to vital supplies and services.

Even as local businesses shut their own doors, they stepped up to offer free meals, groceries, PPE (personal protection equipment) and other services to help our first responders and those in need. More than 99% of Hawaii businesses are small businesses. Local small businesses are all part of this community and giving back is just who they are. This community spirit is what makes doing business in Hawaii so rewarding.

But now, Hawaii’s local businesses need your support. The financial situation has gone from concern to desperation.

The Chamber partnered with UHERO (University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization) on a recent survey in April, which found that 1 in 4 businesses indicated that they would not be able to survive without any additional support.

Paycheck Protection Program funding is running out. Many businesses cannot reopen until trans-Pacific tourism returns — now set to begin Aug. 1 — and those who have reopened are struggling to break even, operating at 50% capacity.

Supporting local can be as simple as purchasing from local small businesses whenever possible and continuing to wear masks and practice physical distancing to avoid a second, devastating lockdown.

Now that the Hawaii Legislature has reconvened, local businesses will also need support to ensure that the government does its part to provide a lifeline of support.

The Chamber’s legislative priorities include securing a longer-term mechanism for loans or grant funding, economic stimulus, streamlined communication and guidelines, access to PPE and dedicated contact tracers to prevent a widespread outbreak.

We also are advocating for the deferment of a proposed minimum wage increase. Earlier this year, we supported this increase when unemployment was at a record low and projections pointed to modest economic growth.

We are now in a completely different reality. Hawaii has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a March UHERO survey indicated that nearly half of our businesses are at risk of closing. At this precarious time, our local businesses simply cannot afford another cost burden.

For years, we’ve said that due to high costs and regulations, Hawaii’s businesses are just one step away from failure. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has proven that to be true. Dress shops that have been in business for decades are shutting their doors after just one missed prom and graduation season. Service-based businesses are at a standstill until the visitor industry can restart. Restaurants operating at partial capacity can’t hope to recoup losses.

Business owners lost everything, including their hopes and dreams to expand, while also doing their best to support employees. With further waves of COVID-19 infection predicted, local businesses are unable to plan for what their future will hold. Now is not the time to make it even harder to sustain a business in Hawaii. Instead, we must come together to stabilize our local business community and ensure that they will be able to continue to create jobs and support our families, communities and our state, as a whole.

In the coming months, more businesses will fail. This is not hyperbole, but a reality based on data. But with community support, we can stem the bleeding and rebuild our local business community stronger and more resilient to the coming challenges.

Sherry Menor-McNamara is president/CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

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