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The Lucky Stowaway as Another Visitor, Adding to Maui’s Population

April 27, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama

The boy who arrived on Maui after a harrowing freezing high-altitude free trip on a modern passenger airliner was an addition (for a while) to our visitor and resident count. This news report was globally reported, even in far-off Europe and Asia. The boy was extremely lucky to have survived and enjoy a few days on Maui. Perhaps he will one day return to re-visit his “lucky” island destination from San Jose. Or even live here, adding to our population.

After Statehood in 1959, many State leaders, including Governor John A. Burns, was keenly interested in the future of Hawai'i. Or more specifically, the idea of that time was that a community and government partnership should plan for a future that is “best” for Hawai'i.

The 1960s became the unstoppable “go-go” decade for Hawai'i: economic growth driven by mass tourism growth and a wide range of new jobs, at Pearl Harbor Shipyard, finance, construction, hospitality, military bases, and airlines. The Big Agriculture-based “Big Five” multi-product/services corporations that dominated the Hawai'i economy from family businesses of the 19th century were increasingly not relevant in the “new” economy of that time. For example, Amfac amazingly did agri-business in sugar plantations and retail via a department store called Liberty House, plus hotel development.

In the late 1960s Governor Burns led a drive to establish the Hawaii Commission on the Year 2000, which ultimately led to the development of the Quality Growth Policy for the State of Hawaii. He was interested in what alternative futures could be projected for the State, just barely a decade old. (If Governor Burns was alive today, he would be very interested in China, Internet e-commerce, and renewable energy – amazingly, he led the creation of the East-West Center in the early 1960s.)

Using a bottom-up approach (hence the name of of the published book: "Hawaii 2000 Continuing Experiment in Anticipatory Democracy”), there were dozens of community forums from Lihue to Hilo that analyzed and discussed the “future”. Some projections are a bit laughable today, including the use of Molokai as a suburb of Oahu, so early-rising business people would ride a fast ferry from their homes on Molokai to downtown Honolulu financial offices – no one in 1970 would predict how each island would become protective of its own limited land and energy resources; in those days, the “State of Hawai’i" meant all islands united as one political entity: "code words" for Oahu-centric).

The Hawai'i 2000 project planners of the late 1960s and early 1970s were amazingly prescient in population projection for Maui – “155,000” – which is the number Maui would hit in the last few years, a decade off, but still, quite an achievement (they could not have foreseen several recessions, the last one that devastated the real estate and construction industries in 2008 – 12 – after a 11-year growth period, according to the First Hawaiian Bank Economic Forecasts).

Since the end of World War II Maui experienced a see-saw swing in population. While Oahu grew nearly 47% from 1950 to 1960, Maui’s population declined 10.9%, more than similar declines by Hawai'i Island and Kauai. Mauians left for better opportunities on Oahu in droves: my uncle and aunt would see their temple membership decline and witness teary farewells at Kahului Airport, with long-time families carrying cardboard boxes containing old photographs and clothes, and often manju.

Then the opposite occurred: in 1970-80, Maui had an over 62% gain in people – far more percentage-wise than Oahu, Hawai'i, and Kauai. For the next two decades Maui would lead all the major islands in population growth. So Maui-based Hawai'i 2000 planners back in the early 1970s with new hotel and golf development and residential re-zoning, must have sensed something was up in the long-term, over three decades.

Population is everything. If Maui had around 40,000 people – and this was the number from the end of World War II to the early-1970s (through the U.S. census), the requirements in food, roads, housing, jobs, schools, construction, police and fire stations, stores, water, cars, trash, sewage, parks, and electricity are quite different from an island demanding air-conditioning and steak and rice and gasoline for nearly 160,000.

Probably there are about 120,000 cars on Maui (some families have three cars; Oahuans probably can’t own more than two cars, due to a lack of parking in condominium high-rises and others use TheBus network).

In the early 2000s Maui County commissioned a Socio-Economic forecast to assist in the update of the General Plan, and the number “186,252” was forecast for the year 2030, barely 16 years from now -- that means adding approximately 40,000 people or one post-War Maui, to the current resident population. And 15 - 20,000 more cars.

A recession is the “growth-stopper”, yet a recession fades into memory very quickly, and in the early 2000s no one would have predicted how bad things would get at the end of the decade, with many businesses folding and residents leaving for Honolulu and Vegas.

But what is the “ideal” population number for an island like Maui and have we already hit it, or surpassed it decades ago, or the best is yet to come, with a flourishing economy?

 
 

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