Molokai Residents Get Back to Work

Over half of ranch workers find jobs and more to come.

By Catherine Cluett

The Molokai Action Team (MAT) meeting last Monday revealed that former ranch employees show a high level of education, skill, and current employment. The MAT was formed in April to address unemployment and economic development after the closing of the Molokai Ranch. The meeting agenda included a review activities as well as updates from the county of Maui and reports from community members.

A Skilled Group
Alberta Patchen, Molokai manager of the Work Force Development Division, compiled education and work experience statistics about 50 of the 98 displaced Ranch employees. Her findings showed that, the employees form a skilled and educated group. Nineteen graduated from college, 26 graduated from high school and only five did not finish high school.

Evaluations filled out by employees showed skills in such areas as hotel, restaurant, government, maintenance, management, construction, and sales. Eighteen of the fifty also indicated they were considering starting their own business. Of the 98 employees, 51 have currently found employment, 47 are unemployed, and 8 have not filed for unemployment.

Henry Oliva reported that the National Emergency Grant (NEG), a federal grant of $389,425 awarded to Molokai Ranch employees affected by the closure, is already being implemented. Of the twenty people enrolled in the NEG program, seven have been approved for college educations graduating in June 2010. Two are enrolled in work experience training and eleven are currently working on finding employment. Other agencies such as Helping Hands are also coming to the island to lend assistance.

Positive Changes in Community
Barbara Kalipi gave a report on the activities of the Molokai Service Providers, an outreach ministry of the Catholic Church. The group consists of volunteers who help connect unemployed community members with employment services.  The Molokai Service Providers met the next day to host agency presentations focused on job training, business planning, and employment services available through various state and county offices. Volunteers gathered information on these agencies, will assemble a directory, and act as employment peer supporters in the community.

Another MAT member provided an update on the development of Maunaloa, a community that started with 17 members and has now reached almost 200. Ten new homes have been built recently, a monthly farmer’s market has been started, and a regular movie night open to the public has been launched.
 
The meeting closed with a discussion of the Damian tourism situation in Kalaupapa. Employment opportunities may exist in the development of the area as a pilgrimage and tourist site, especially in the field of health and emergency services. The Kalaupapa hospital only serves patients, and therefore additional facilities would need to be developed to be available to the public.

Further development would depend on whether the Catholic Church expects a short-term surge of pilgrims to the island or a more long-term flow of interest. The new schedule of Island Air resulting in a reduction of service to Molokai was also discussed. The MAT suggested that the Damian pilgrimage might make Molokai a more demanded destination for airlines, thus increasing employment opportunities.

Water Update
The meeting’s agenda included a water systems update from Director of the Hawaii Office of Planning Abbey Mayer.

He explained that “the state has pierced the corporate veil,” and described Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) as the “alter ego” of water utility companies Molokai Public Utilities, Inc. (MPU) and Wai`ola o Molokai, Inc. (Wai`ola), and the wastewater utility Mosco, Inc.. Mayer says MPL shares employees, funds, office spaces and supervisors with these companies, and therefore shows a “lack of observing corporate formality.”

He encouraged the people of Molokai to accept the rate increases because the alternative of no water seemed a much more severe consequence of the situation.

Tensions rose when a member of the Action Team expressed concern that the state seemed to be siding with the MPL, and Mayer added a personal statement of disagreement.

County spokesperson Mahina Martin iterated the county’s focus on providing adequate and safe drinking and waste water to affected citizens, as well as the need to develop emergency plans in the event of water termination. She said the county has proceeded with building an emergency plan with the assumption that the utilities won’t come through. Martin assured the group that the county is very concerned about the situation and is doing everything it can to respond appropriately.

MAT members expressed concern that while the water issue is important, the Action Team meeting may not be an appropriate venue for discussion and that focus needed to be brought back to their founding mission, that of addressing employment issues. Members decided to eliminate the water update from future agendas.

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