Experts say the rapid improvement in the economy brings a new challenge: Can Hawaii’s workforce keep up with the pent-up demand?

The head of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization said it’s just a matter of timing.

“So, can we deal with not enough rental cars? Can we deal with not enough workers? Can we deal with not enough childcare, all those things?” said Carl Bonham, UHERO executive director.

Bonham expects the state to fully reopen by the end of July as vaccinations continue to rollout. The governor plans to lift all COVID restrictions once 70% of Hawaii is fully vaccinated.

Right now, the state is at 53%.

Bonham said because of federal help ― including stimulus money, PPP loans and unemployment benefits over the last year ― Hawaii never had a recession in terms of income.

“And that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have this kind of a recovery,” said Bonham.

“The economic recovery has to be fast enough to offset the end of the federal stimulus payments, all that federal money that was flowing in.”

With that funding is running out and at the rate the economy is moving, businesses are anxiously waiting for a full reopening date.

“So, this is really helpful for the restaurants to start getting ramped up and get ready for the reopening in August,” said Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, CEO and president of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, added: “The better prepared they can be such as finding the workers, ensuring they have the available products and as well as services to for a full reopening.”

Hiroshi Lamansky, president of Tanaka of Tokyo Restaurants, said like many restaurants they’re having a tough time filling positions in all departments.

Lamansky said they tried to hire as many as they could, but so far only have about half as many employees as they did pre-COVID.

“Well, because we have a shortage of staff,” said Lamansky.

“You don’t want to overbook our restaurants and risk our customers having to wait, you know, an extended amount of time for either a table or for the chef to come out.”

Restaurants are feeling the same strains from production shortages that are impacting other industries and they’re not sure if they’ll catch up before Hawaii hits 70%.

“Sometimes one of them wasn’t available, and we’d have to kind of scramble to try and find either another one or another supplier that could bring it in at the last minute,” said Lamansky. “And it’s been quite a challenge.”

Bonham said ultimately it will come down to being prepared for the tourism floodgates to open the day Hawaii hits a 70% vaccination rate.

“We need to make progress and we need to have the work to manage the tourism numbers that we’re going to be dealing with,” said Bonham.

Bonham said it will be a record-breaking summer of visitors to the islands.

While there’s almost no international visitors right now, he says will start to see travel open to Canada in the Fall.

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