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Chancellor’s Column, May 2024: In community outreach project, UH Hilo marketing students survey local businesses about current outlooks

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

Students in a marketing class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo completed a survey over spring semester with 105 local restaurant and accommodation businesses to learn more about current outlooks and the challenges facing our island’s entrepreneurs.

The project was a collaboration between UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics and the Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center. HISBDC is a state-federal partnership found in every state and hosted by a local university. UH Hilo is our state’s host university and the Hawaiʻi SBDC statewide network has five offices on four islands.

The survey is the first of many such student projects HISBDC hopes to generate with UH Hilo and other UH campuses throughout the state. It was headed by Joseph Burns, HISBDC’s state director, and UH Hilo marketing lecturer Arliss Dudley-Cash whose spring 2024 class, “Principles of Marketing,” conducted and analyzed the survey.

The project was two-fold: conducting the survey gave our students practical experience, and the survey itself produced some interesting data about local business.

The students gained myriad benefits during the survey process that included not just real-life experience in creating, implementing, and analyzing an informal outlook survey, but also the gaining of valuable insights into entrepreneurial businesses such as practical knowledge about industries, business models, and challenges faced by local entrepreneurs.

There were 41 responses from the 105 businesses surveyed, an excellent response rate of 39 percent. And the results showed some hints of optimism, interesting in light of the negative impacts most everyone experienced during the pandemic.

Supply chain constraints, which were a serious problem during the pandemic, have abated, although are still a concern. Some two-thirds of the respondents see inflation as a challenge. With interest rates still high, none of the respondents indicated they foresee taking out a business loan at present.

However, 37.5 percent of the respondents said they plan to hire employees this year, which indicates that more than one-third of responding small business owners expect there will be sufficient demand to warrant new hiring. HISBDC State Director Burns says that since the state unemployment rate is low, business owners may have to renew their strategies for attracting and retaining the best employees.

Despite these challenges, the survey revealed local entrepreneurs feel optimistic about the future and that businesses are on the road to recovery after the huge challenges everyone endured during the pandemic.

I believe these types of community outreach projects, such as the student-conducted survey, are a win-win for everyone involved.

As the students’ mentor Arliss Dudley-Cash notes about the project, our students gain real-life experience in communicating with professionals, honing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Their academic work is enriched, and the skills gained become part of the foundation of future careers.

Our local business community benefits from the survey results, understanding better what their peers are experiencing, what challenges they face, and that the undercurrent is one of optimism for the future. We have survived the pandemic and are moving into the future with confidence.

State Director Burns says the results of the UH Hilo marketing class’s survey allow the business center’s advisors to learn more about client needs to be sure they are prepared to address them. He says the survey has been very helpful to the center and that HISBDC intends to continue this type of collaboration with future UH Hilo classes.

I’m proud that UH Hilo is the host university for our state’s Small Business Development Center, and I look forward to our students — and students at other UH campuses — becoming more and more involved in this type of community outreach.

I mua!

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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