A recent survey by the Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i finds 86% of Hawai‘i businesses are struggling to fill open positions. That was definitely top of mind when PBN gathered Hawai‘i Island business leaders for a panel discussion.

Doug Simons, vice president of the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce, says he hears about it at every meeting, adding, “Rebuilding capacity is being pretty badly limited by lack of labor at this point.”

Sandra Gibson owns Kona-based Sea Salts of Hawai‘i, where business is picking up and she’s finding it difficult to fill a position in production fulfillment.

Gibson and her husband own several small businesses. They’d like to add more, but they hesitate because of uncertainty—not only about staffing but also about when restrictions on business will truly end.

The visitor industry includes some of the island’s largest employers, and resorts are trying to fill as many as 100 or more positions at a time.

Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau, says the challenge is complicated by a wave of retirements.

Many of those were accelerated by voluntary severance packages that allowed hotels to downsize during the pandemic with fewer layoffs.

Domestic visitors to the island are actually above 2019 levels now. All that’s missing are the international arrivals, and the panel was excited about opportunities ahead.

Future developments include county investments in infrastructure, such as roads and broadband, and new efforts to diversify the economy.