Economist sees positive signs in Big Island economy; tourism, construction growing

Economic Indicators Associated Press

An economist addressing a Hawaii County economic forum sees positive signs for the Big Island.

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Tourism is Jack Suyderhoud at the 40th annual First Hawaiian Bank event flourishing in Kohala on the island's northwest side, said.

"In talking with the people who are on the ground here, the hotel bookings are really good," Suyderhoud told West Hawaii Today (http://bit.ly/YjG1zD) before his formal presentation at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. "It's a great destination. People with money are finding the properties here attractive."

Some are buying property, said Suyderhoud, a professor of business economics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Tourism arrivals fell at the end of 2013, he said, but they began to rebound in July. Even in some months when arrival numbers were down, spending was up, he said.

Visitors to the Big Island in general are not big spenders, he said. The island's lava flow has an impact equal to a tropical storm in super slow motion, and it may persuade more visitors to book a helicopter tour. But it probably isn't enough to persuade a traveler to switch a destination from Cozumel to Kona, he said.

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However, another natural phenomenon, Tropical Storm Iselle, may spur growth in another marquee industry, construction.

"Even before Iselle and the lava flows, it was hoped that construction would make up for the slowing tourism sector, and to an extent it has done so," Suyderhoud said.

Building permits throughout the island continue to increase, Suyderhoud said. "The recent upswing suggests construction may finally be breaking out," he said.

Only about 3,600 of the 11,000 construction jobs lost in the state because of the recession have been recovered, he said. On the Big Island, 900 of 3,000 lost construction jobs have returned.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com