Making It

Hawaii works hard for its money. We took a look at 12 different businesses—from Matson to L&L Drive-Inn to a downtown parking garage—to find out just what it takes to make a living in paradise.


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We interact with all kinds of businesses everyday, just in the course of living our lives. It’s easy to forget, as we’re filling up our gas tank, or buying lunch, that, behind the scenes, someone is obsessing over the exact price of a gallon of gasoline, or the ingredients of a plate lunch, to make sure you’ll be back next week. The life of a business owner is a constant hustle, especially in Hawaii—the Milken Institute recently ranked our state as the single most expensive in the United States in which to do business, with costs 52 percent higher than the national average. To find out what it takes to survive in such a competitive environment, we talked to 12 different businesses and nonprofit organizations, in a wide range of different industries, about the nuts and bolts of their operation. Turns out there’s a rhyme and reason behind even the smallest details, down to the weight of an airline snack cart.


Matson Navigation Co.

How it works: Matson works with major distribution centers on the West Coast—Seattle, Oakland and Long Beach, Calif.—and ships goods to the Islands on 13 vessels. Hawaii is Matson’s core business, and it has been operating here continually since 1882. Matson handles 70 percent of everything shipped in from the Mainland, from light bulbs to mirrors for space telescopes. Companies such as Safeway rely on West Coast distribution centers, rather than building new ones on pricey Island real estate.

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