A Future Beyond Sugar for Maui?

Jan 15, 2016

Credit Justin Ennis / Flickr

As Maui looks ahead to a post-sugar future, officials fear the closure of HC&S could have an Island-wide impact.  Pacific Business News Editor in Chief A. Kam Napier has more.

Alexander & Baldwin’s HC&S sugar operation on Maui is huge.  At 36,000 acres. It’s bigger than the official city limits of San Francisco.  It employs 675 people, most of whom will be out of work as HC&S winds down operations by the end of the year.

In some ways, it appears to be a loss that Maui can absorb. Unemployment there is a low 3.4%, and about 20,000 non-farm businesses employ more 60,000 people.  By that measure, the job losses at HC&S comprise a small percentage of Maui’s total workforce.

However, what officials we spoke with fear most at present, is that the closure of HC&S will impact small business and farms far beyond the sugar operation itself.  This includes everything from vendors who supply HC&S with goods to small farms that have been keeping their own costs down by piggybacking their orders onto HC&S orders of agricultural supplies.

Even non-profits will feel the pinch, Maui industry leaders say.  For example, the HC&S community initiative last year had given out 19 grants of $100,000 each.  Beneficiaries included senior centers, youth supports and social services.  This support will be missed.

A&B has talked about redeveloping its sugar acreage into diversified Agriculture, giving a preference to former employees for farm plots.  However, some experts, such as economist Paul Brewbaker, are expressing skepticism that this will work.  Diversified agriculture has yet to successfully replace large scale sugar plantations after they have closed on West Maui, Kaua‘i, Lāna‘I, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island.