Experts expect Hawaii to fully reopen this summer. Is our workforce ready?

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Experts say the rapidly improving economy brings a new challenge: Can Hawaii’s workforce meet pent-up demand?

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

“So can we handle the lack of rental cars? Can we cope with an insufficient number of workers? Can we handle the lack of child care, all of those things? Said Carl Bonham, Executive Director of UHERO.

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

Right now, the state is at 53%.

Bonham said that due to federal aid – including stimulus funds, P3 loans and unemployment benefits over the past year – Hawaii has never had a recession in terms of income.

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

“The economic recovery has to be quick enough to make up for the end of federal stimulus payments, all that federal money pouring in.”

With this funding running out and at the pace of the economy, businesses are eagerly awaiting a full reopening date.

“So it’s really helpful for restaurants to start ramping up and getting ready for 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 they can be prepared, for example finding workers, ensuring they have the products and services available for a full reopening . “

Hiroshi Lamansky, president of Tanaka of Tokyo Restaurants, said that, like many restaurants, they are struggling to fill positions in all departments.

Lamansky said they had tried to hire as many as they could, but so far had only about half as many employees as before COVID.

“Well, because we are understaffed,” Lamansky said.

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

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

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

Bonham said that at the end of the day, it will be about preparing for the floodgates of tourism to open the day Hawaii hits a 70% vaccination rate.

“We have to make progress and we have to have the work to manage the tourism numbers that we are going to face,” Bonham said.

Bonham said it would be a record summer for visitors to the islands.

While there are almost no international visitors at the moment, he says travel to Canada will start to open in the fall.

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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