The year 2016 will mark the end of an era in Hawaii. After 180 years in the state, the sugar industry is shutting down. Hawaii's last remaining plantation is phasing out it's sugar operations this year. As the industry goes away, so does jobs.
The Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company on Maui said it'll be laying off 675 employees by the end of this year. What was once the foundation of Hawaii's economy will soon be history.
"If you told somebody in 1950 when sugar was the absolute foundation of the entire economy in the Hawaiian islands that the day was going to come when sugar was going to end they would not have believed you, it would be impossible to comprehend, and here we are," said DeSoto Brown, a historian at Bishop Museum.
Brown says Wednesday's announcement was momentous. He points out how sugar cane not only re-shaped our land by way of water diversions and the vast amount of farm lands needed for growing, but Brown says to look at the people who live here.
"The reason the Hawaiian islands population is so diverse is primarily because of the sugar industry," said Brown.
The company says the cuts will start in March.
"I certainly am hopeful that they will find great opportunities and in the long run this will be a positive thing but we're certainly not seeing a lot of silver lining other than the fact that we remain committed to our employees and we're going to do what we can to make this as minimally painful as possible," said Christopher Benjamin, President of Alexander & Baldwin.
Alexander and Baldwin president Christopher Benjamin said his company has made every effort to avoid layoffs but it expects to incur a $30-million operating loss for 2015.
"We've always taken a very long-term view of the business. We've lost money in the past and not chosen to shut down the plantation or seize sugar operations but in this case we saw more of the same in our future. So while we lost money in the past, we've always sought out towards recovery and in this case we frankly did not," said Benjamin.
Moving forward, the company says it will be transitioning it's 36,000 acre plantation on Maui towards smaller farms and varied agricultural uses potentially including food and energy crops, cattle, and the development of an agriculture park where residents would be able to grow crops.
"All this contention that's been building regarding water rights and came burning that's pau now and now we can move forward together and it's a real opportunity for a new unity on our island," said Representative Kaniela Ing (D) Kihei, Wailea, Makena.
Looking back at history, the production of sugar cane in 2014 was down to 1.3 million tons. It's been dropping steadily every year since 1982 when Hawaii was producing nearly 9-million tons of sugar cane. Some industry insiders believe the end of sugar cane in Hawaii was inevitable.
"It's going to be a hard transition so I think that compassion has to be given because it's been generations of families in the sugar plantation and it's unique it's like no other industry," said Donna Domingo, President of the ILWU.
A lot of lawmakers reacted to to the announcement.
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa released this statement:
“The sugar industry in Hawaii first began on Maui so it is only right that it ends here as well,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa. “Our hearts go out to the workers whose jobs will be affected by this transition. We hope that they can be absorbed back into the workforce without delay and the county will assist in any way we can. I’ve assigned Managing Director Keith Regan to work with HC&S to see what kind of help we can provide.
Still, we knew that this day was inevitable. HC&S for years now has planted crop after crop to see what they could use to replace sugar cane, and they have kept my office informed every step of the way. Fruit trees, taro, bio-mass, papayas, avocados and much more have all gone through trial testing, leaving us very confident that while sugar cane is dead, agriculture will remain very much alive here.
We look forward to HC&S’ plans for the future of ag on Maui and the opportunities it will bring. Although jobs may be lost in the near future we believe that other ag related projects and programs will bring back many positions eventually.
Today marks the end of an era but also a new beginning for Maui as we work towards food and energy sustainability with HC&S and Alexander & Baldwin. I also ask that community members be respectful to one another about this issue, as people are very emotional right now. Let’s all do our best to help each other out so that we can all get to the next stage of Maui’s future.”
Statement from Governor David Ige:
It is with sadness that I received the news that Alexander & Baldwin will transition out of sugar farming after 145 years. This is a significant historic marker for Hawai'i, the end of an era that touched the lives of generations of hardworking, local families.
However, A & B will now pursue diversified agriculture - a golden opportunity for the state to focus on renewable energy and food security.
My administration will work with A & B to help guide the transition. Rapid Response teams from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) will be deployed to assist displaced workers with unemployment compensation, career transition, training for new jobs and job placement. DLIR will also work with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
A & B has played a significant role in the state's economy and has supported our local communities for many years. The state will continue to partner with A & B to ensure its success.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement on the announcement that Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) will end its sugar production operations by the end of 2016 and transition to a diversified agricultural model.
"Today's announcement marks an end to plantation agriculture that shaped our state's history. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company has been a source of economic stability for the County of Maui, pioneered technical innovation in the field of agriculture, and served as a catalyst to a labor movement that improved working conditions for Hawaii families. We must ensure that the individuals and families affected by the cessation of sugar operations are provided the assistance they need during this transition," said Senator Hirono. "While today's announcement marks the end of an era, it demonstrates that agriculture in Hawaii continues to evolve. I will work with HC&S, ILWU, and other local, state, and federal partners to aggressively promote food and energy security and create new opportunities on Maui and throughout the state."
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) released the following statement today following the announcement that the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co. Plantation on Maui will close by the end of the year:
"I am deeply saddened by today's announcement that sugar operations at HC&S will close this year. For over 130 years, sugar production on Maui was more than a business, spawning a way of life and generations of hard working women and men who made our State remarkable and great. I will work with Governor Ige and other public officials to ensure that we honor the legacy of these generations by finding opportunities for those affected by the closedown. Similarly, it is essential that we work with Alexander & Baldwin in a coordinated effort to keep these extraordinary lands in active agriculture."
Statement from SPEAKER JOSEPH M. SOUKI
honolulu, Hawaii —With today’s announcement that Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) will end its sugar production operations by the end of 2016, Speaker Joseph M. Souki (Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu) released the following statement:
“Alexander & Baldwin’s announcement that it will phase out sugar operations at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company’s plantation marks the end of era on Maui. So many of us have grown up in the shadows of sugar operations on Maui—with our grandparents and great grandparents having worked the fields to provide for their families. It is a sad day indeed.
However we will work closely with A&B, the Governor, the ILWU, and federal, state and county agencies to ensure that the transition for the workers and families involved is as smooth as humanly possible.”
Statement from State Senators Kalani English, Gil Keith-Agaran and Rosalyn Baker.
State Senators who represent the County of Maui today reacted with reserved optimism for the future of agriculture following today's announcement that Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) will be transitioning out of sugar and pursue diversified agriculture.
"I want to thank A&B for their support in sustaining Maui's agricultural industry for so many years,' said Sen. J. Kalani English (Dist. 7 - Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Kaho'olawe). Sen. English said he perceives one positive aspect to replacing sugar is that A&B can be inventive and move Hawai'i towards greater food sustainability and provide more crops for local consumption. "I'm hopeful that A&B will evolve into a successful diversified farm model."
"I applaud A&B for bearing in mind the impact the transition will have on Maui's community. We will work diligently and closely with the Governor's departments, A&B and the union to provide our last sugar workers with assistance and training and finding alternative employment opportunities," said Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran (Dist. 5 - Wailuku, Waihe'e, Kahului).?
"It's the end of an era that had a profound impact on Maui's history and countless Maui families," said Sen. Rosalyn Baker (Dist. 6 - South and West Maui), who witnessed the difficult economic downturn in her district due to three previous closures of sugar and pineapple. The Senator expressed deep concern for the workers and how the transition will affect the Maui community. "We will do what we can to ensure that the impact on residents and businesses will be minimal and look for opportunities in the transition to a new diversified agriculture model."
The following statement was issued by Representative Justin Woodson (Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills, Maui Lani):
"When I think about the 700 plus employees and their families, I am saddened by the impact this decision will have on all of their lives. Our focus will now be on helping these employees through the transition and securing good paying jobs. In addition, we want to ensure that the acreage that is currently dedicated to sugar remains green and in productive agriculture."