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Maui Sugar: End of an Era – Part 2

Posted November 3, 2016, 04:54 PM HST Updated November 4, 2016, 02:13 PM HST
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As we head into the final quarter of 2016, Maui Now created a special Maui Sugar: End of an Era section that honors the industry, its workers and the plantation roots that have become a part of the last 145 years of Maui’s history.

As the last harvest nears its end, we had the opportunity to document some of the work that goes into the operation, and find out first hand how employees are faring.

In January, 2016, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. announced that it is transitioning out of farming sugar and will instead pursue a diversified agricultural model for its 36,000-acre Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company plantation on Maui.

HC&S General Manager, Rick Volner tells Maui Now that the company had a couple of major goals that they set out at the beginning of the year.  “One was obviously finishing this last year and getting the sugar production and the crop through.”

Volner said the company’s production levels was at about 70% in the beginning of September.

“Just as important was managing the transition of our employees,” said Volner. “As we started the layoff process, providing for our employees a transition to new lines of work, retire if possible–if the situation allowed that, as well as get them involved with whatever training opportunities are out there that they’re interested in,” he said.

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Volner said the company has been successful in transitioning workers by placing well over 100 laid-off workers in other employment, or transitioning them in some way to relocate for other job opportunities off island, or retire in some cases.

“Those have really been our two major focal points when we started the year–finishing up the crop, and then transitioning our employees–and I think we are well on our way to doing both,” said Volner.

When asked how he felt about being a part of the last harvest, Robert Luuwai, vice president of factory operations at HC&S said, “It doesn’t feel too good, but life goes on.”  Luuwai had hoped to get six more years under his belt before retiring, but he’s one of those who will be looking for a job when his duties at HC&S come to an end.

He said that it was difficult to sustain operations, especially with so many no-burn days over the last two years.

“The valley already looks different,” said Luuwai, who started with HC&S as a shift supervisor in 1986. “It’s the next stage of my life.  I told my kids I don’t know what’s going to happen, but be prepared.  It’s going to be different,” said Luuwai.

We welcome you to post your photos and memories, as we say Aloha to an industry that is inseparable from the history and identity of Maui.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 15 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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