UH Hilo marketing class surveys local businesses about current outlooks

The students discovered that despite challenges, local entrepreneurs feel optimistic about the future, revealing that businesses are on a recovery path following the lows of the pandemic.

Red-roofed UH Hilo College of Business and Economics, covered walkway into the entrance.
UH Hilo College of Business and Economics.. Marketing students at the college recently completed a survey of local entrepreneurs.

By Susan Enright.

Students in a marketing class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo recently completed a survey with 105 local restaurant and accommodation businesses to learn more about current outlooks and the challenges facing the entrepreneurs.

Arliss Dudley-Cash pictured.
Arliss Dudley-Cash
Joseph Burns pictured.
Joseph Burns

The project was a collaboration between UH Hilo and the Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center, part of a state-federal partnership found in every state and hosted by a local university. With UH Hilo as the host university, the Hawaiʻi SBDC statewide network of five offices is led by state director Joseph Burns, who is based at the center’s main office on Keawe Street in Hilo and reports to the chancellor at UH Hilo.

“This survey was an effort to give the students some practical experience as an example of the HISBDC’s effort to increase our engagement with UH Hilo,” says Burns, who worked with UH Hilo marketing lecturer Arliss Dudley-Cash to execute the survey. The project was launched with Dudley-Cash’s spring 2024 class, “Principles of Marketing” (MKT 310).

“Participating in a research study with the Small Business Development Center interviewing entrepreneurs offers myriad benefits for college students,” says Dudley-Cash, noting students gained invaluable real-world insights into entrepreneurial businesses including practical knowledge about industries, business models, and challenges faced by entrepreneurs.

In addition to producing valuable results of benefit to local businesses, during the process of creating and implementing the informal outlook survey, the students also learned the difference between primary and secondary market research, and how to review and analyze the results.

The results

There were seven students in the marketing class who executed the survey — they conducted the interviews and earned extra credit in doing so. The entire class fully participated in lectures, other class activities related to the project, and reviewing the results.

There were 41 responses from the 105 businesses surveyed, an excellent response rate of 39 percent. The results are interesting. For example, supply chain constraints, which were a serious problem during the pandemic, have abated, but are still somewhat of an issue with many of the respondents. 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. 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.

And yet in spite of these challenges, the students discovered something surprising: local entrepreneurs feel optimistic about the future, showing businesses are on a recovery path following the lows of the pandemic.

Click on charts to enlarge:

Optimism results.

Dudley-Cash says her students’ field work of engaging directly with professionals to conduct the survey fostered critical thinking and problem-solving skills that in turn helped the students strengthen their communication and interpersonal skills. She says involvement in research studies can also cultivate a sense of responsibility and professionalism as students navigate the demands of data collection, analysis, and reporting.

“Ultimately, these experiences not only enrich students’ academic journeys but also equip them with transferable skills essential for their future careers in diverse industries,” she explains.

Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center

Logo: Hawaii SBDC Small Business Development CenterThe Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center (HISBDC), which includes five service offices located throughout the state, is part of a national collaborative program created in 1980 by the U.S. Congress and now found in every state and most territories. Each center is a partnership between the federal government though the U.S. Small Business Administration and each state, with each center hosted by a university or college.

HISBDC started in 1990 with a mission to assist Hawaiʻi businesses by providing no cost business advisory services, low or no cost training classes, and market research. The HISBDC’s five service offices are located in Hilo and Kona on Hawaiʻi Island, Līhuʻe on Kauaʻi, Kīhei on Maui, and Honolulu on Oʻahu.

The statewide program’s host institution is UH Hilo, with the main state office located in the Hawaiʻi Innovation Center on Keawe Street in Hilo. The center’s state director reports to the UH Hilo chancellor.

HISBDC’s East Hawaiʻi Island service office is located on Pauahi Street in Hilo.

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.

“It has been helpful for us, and we intend to continue this collaboration with future UH Hilo classes,” says Burns.

Mural on the building depicts Hawaiian cultural symbols and botanicals.
The statewide Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center network of five offices has its main state office located in the Hawaiʻi Innovation Center on Keawe Street in Hilo. UH Hilo is the host university of the statewide program. (Photo: Kirsten Aoyagi/UH Hilo Stories)

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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