Existential Threats to Businesses In Hawaii

A few things in today’s newspaper caught my attention: 1) Governor Ige is likely to veto a bill that would have prohibited new fish collecting licenses, and 2) a story about how the recent publicity about rat lungworm disease might be affecting locally-grown produce. Both of these stories highlight what I call “existential threats to business”; things that, in a very short time, could completely destroy a business.

We often here the phrase “existential threats” in reference to things that could wipe out humankind on earth. These include asteroid impacts, extreme climate change and on local levels, earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes. I think the term also works well for business.

Here are five existential threats to businesses in Kona, Hawaii.

  • Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. Yes, all three occur in Kona and all three are expected to happen again, sooner or later.
  • Government regulations. Governor Ige, if he did sign the fish collecting license law, would make it a dying industry. Likewise, our DLNR or federal authorities could shut down parts of our lucrative ocean recreation industry: banning or highly-regulating out “dolphin tours” or our manta night snorkeling/diving. The Public Utilities Commission basically killed the rooftop solar business when it took away net metering. We now see very few solar company vans or installation in Kona: regulation killed the business. One of the big fears in our agriculture industry is the possibility of a widespread immigration crackdown: many farms will be forced to shut down.
  • Environmental changes. Many bee farmers stopped their businesses when the Varroa mite became widespread on the island. Many farmers have basically given up on using their land because of little fire ant infestations, which makes it very hard to get pickers on the land. The outbreak of rat lungworm cases this year could result in lettuce and raw produce farms to lose their markets. Rapid Ohia death has wiped out thousands of acres or tree-covered forests in a matter of months.
  • A 300 pound gorilla enters the market. Many small retails and service business would be at great peril if a Mainland chain or well-founded locally-based competitor entered the market. When Sports Authority came to Kona, several small sporting goods companies were forced out of business. I know of a few businesses that are barely keeping on because of franchise chains with their purchasing power, superior supply chain management, high ad budgets and fancy stores, coming to town.
    300 pound gorilla
  • Death of principal. Many family-owned businesses face existential crises when the patriarch or matriarch of the business dies. The family, which is often less committed to the business , has to decide to continue running the business, sell it or shut it down.

All of these existential threats are very real possibilities for the majority of small and medium-sized businesses in Kona. There are, of course, many more, but these are some of the ones that should keep business owners awake at night