Starting a Business in Hawaii – A Comprehensive Guide

How to Start a Business in Hawaii 

Starting a business in Hawaii can be both exciting and uncertain. Therefore, it’s essential to have a strong business idea to guide you. This guide offers valuable insights and resources for new and experienced entrepreneurs looking to establish themselves in Hawaii’s thriving business community.

Whether you’re a newcomer to the business world or an experienced professional looking to expand your business in Hawaii, this guide is valuable. It can help you understand the intricacies of the business environment in Hawaii, whether you’re launching a startup or devising a growth strategy.

Top Two Advantages of Starting a Business in Hawaii:

  1. Hawaii’s geographical location in the Pacific and its strong tourism industry open up vast market opportunities.
  2. The supportive government initiatives in Hawaii and a structured legal system make it an attractive hub for startups and established corporations.

Top Two Challenges of Starting a Business in Hawaii:

  1. Being a preferred destination for many entrepreneurs, Hawaii poses a highly competitive business landscape where newcomers might face intense competition.
  2. Hawaii’s cost of living and business, particularly in major cities like Honolulu, can be significantly higher than in other regions.

As we continue reading this guide, we will explore further details and specific aspects of Hawaii’s business environment.

Regulatory Factors and Taxes in Hawaii

Hawaii implements a balanced regulatory framework to safeguard public safety, consumer interests, and the state’s natural beauty while fostering a conducive environment for thriving businesses. The state actively ensures its regulations promote business growth and success.

Understanding the state corporate income tax is vital for any business’s financial planning. In Hawaii, the corporate income tax ranges from 4.4% to 6.4% depending on the net income, which is quite reasonable compared to other states. However, Hawaii also imposes a personal income tax, which may be a factor for potential business owners to consider.

Hawaii does not have a sales tax but imposes a state General Excise Tax (GET) of 4% that applies to most goods and services sold. In addition, certain counties, like Oahu, add a surcharge to the state GET, which can result in a slightly higher total rate. If you operate a business in Hawaii, whether a physical store or an e-commerce site, you’ll need to collect this tax from your customers and remit it to the state.

Despite the presence of personal income tax, Hawaii’s relatively lower corporate tax rate and unique business opportunities, especially in the tourism and service sectors, make it an appealing destination for businesses. Companies can maintain competitive pricing and healthy profit margins with proper planning and strategy.

How do I Choose a Business Structure?

There are five primary types of businesses. Each type of business entity is described below.

Sole Proprietorship

A business owned and operated by one individual with no legal distinction between the business and the owner. The owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities of the business. Most small business owners in Hawaii use this business type.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A flexible business organization that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the tax benefits and simplicity of a partnership. Owners of an LLC are called members, and their assets are typically protected from the debts and liabilities of the business. You have the flexibility to define many aspects of how your business will work in your Articles of Organization.

S-Corporations

A type of corporation allows for pass-through taxation, meaning that profits and losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their tax returns. S-Corporations are limited to 100 shareholders and must meet specific eligibility requirements. An S-Corp can be particularly advantageous if the founders or investors have other income. If the business doesn’t generate a profit in any year, the shareholders can use the losses from a tax perspective.

C-Corporations

A separate legal entity from its owners (shareholders) means that the corporation can enter into contracts, own assets, and sue or be sued. C-Corporations are subject to double taxation, meaning that the corporation and the shareholders are taxed on profits.

A Note About S-Corps and C-Corps

For both S-Corporations and C-Corporations, your business formation documents will include Articles of Incorporation, sometimes called a Corporate Charter. The specific requirements and format of Articles of Incorporation can vary by jurisdiction. It is advisable to consult with a business attorney or online legal service such as Legal Zoom to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations when drafting and filing these documents.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

A partnership that limits the personal liability of its partners. LLPs are typically used by professional service providers such as lawyers, accountants, and architects. Each partner is protected from the other partners’ wrongful acts, omissions, and negligence, but they may still be personally liable for their own actions.

Distribution of Businesses

Business Type Percent of Businesses in Hawaii
Sole Proprietorship 60-65%
Limited Liability Company (LLC) 15-20%
S-Corporation 5-8%
C-Corporation 7-9%
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 2-3%

Notably, the percentages are subject to yearly fluctuations and are heavily impacted by industry and location factors. Furthermore, the data provided encompasses businesses registered outside of Hawaii but conducting operations within the state. Please keep this information in mind.

What is an Employer Identification Number – EIN?

Definition of an EIN or Employer Identification Number

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit number the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns to businesses in the United States. This number is essential for managing business tax obligations and is occasionally called the Federal Tax Identification Number (TIN) or the Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).

Do I Need One to Start a Business in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, an EIN is required if you intend to establish a corporation or partnership, hire employees, apply for a business license, or open a business bank account. This crucial number simplifies the administration of your company’s tax obligations.

How Do I Get One?

Obtaining an EIN is straightforward. You can apply for it directly on the IRS website or submit Form SS-4 to the IRS via mail or fax. However, the quickest way to receive your EIN is by applying online, which provides you with the number immediately after you complete the application. If you need further assistance or information, you can reach the IRS at 1-800-829-4933 (for businesses) or visit their website at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/employer-id-numbers.

How to Start a Business in Hawaii – Important Registrations

Registering My Business Name

You must register your business name with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) Business Registration Division. They can be reached at (808) 586-2727, or you can visit their website: https://cca.hawaii.gov/breg/.

Registering a DBA (Doing Business As) If Relevant

If your business functions under a name different from its legal name, you’ll need to register a Trade Name (similar to a DBA) through the DCCA’s Business Registration Division. Hawaii has four main counties, each with local government services and regulations. You can find a comprehensive directory of Hawaii’s local governments at this website: https://portal.ehawaii.gov/. It provides contact details for each county, which can assist businesses in understanding local regulations or requirements.

Registering for Payroll, State Payroll Taxes, and Unemployment Insurance

If you want to register for state payroll taxes and unemployment insurance in Hawaii, you must create an account with the Hawaii Department of Taxation. You can do this by visiting their website at http://tax.hawaii.gov/ or contacting them at (808) 587-4242.

Registering for Worker’s Compensation Insurance

In Hawaii, businesses should contact a licensed provider to arrange worker’s compensation insurance. If you use a payroll service, they should also be able to provide worker’s comp.

Registering for Collecting Sales Tax

If you operate a business in Hawaii, it’s mandatory to register for the sales tax. You can complete this process by visiting the Hawaii Department of Taxation website at http://tax.hawaii.gov/.

Registering for Income Tax

If you own a business in Hawaii, it’s essential to register for state income tax with the Hawaii Department of Taxation. You can call them at (808) 587-4242 or visit their website at http://tax.hawaii.gov/.

Registering to Pay Property Tax

For property tax registration in Hawaii, you must contact your local county property tax office. More information can be found on each county’s official website https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/.

Permits for Starting a Business in Hawaii

Do I Need a Business Permit to Operate a Business in Hawaii?

At the State Level: Ensuring that your business meets the requirements is crucial for operating in specific industries in Hawaii, and state-level permits or licenses are a must-have. We strongly advise you to check the Hawaii Business Express website at https://hbe.ehawaii.gov/documents/home.html to avoid any legal issues that may arise.

Check With Your City: Engage with your local city government or business licensing office to verify if city-specific permits are needed for your business. Each city may have different requirements based on local ordinances.

Check With Your Country: To run your business in your country, it is important to comply with specific regulations and obtain the necessary permits. You can contact the clerk’s office in your county to obtain this information.

Check With Your County: To operate your business there, you must comply with specific regulations and acquire the necessary permits. You can contact your county clerk’s office for this information.

The requirements can significantly vary depending on the nature and location of your business. Therefore, it’s always advisable to consult with the appropriate authorities before launching your business.

How do I learn about any special permits I need for my business?

When establishing a business in Hawaii, knowing about any special permits or licenses required for your industry is critical. These requirements can vary substantially based on location, size, and the type of business. Consequently, comprehensive research is needed to ensure you meet all regulations and avoid legal complications and potential fines.

Several resources can provide this information. The Hawaii Business Express is a key resource that helps businesses with licensing and permit needs. Visit their website to learn about specific regulations or schedule a meeting with their team for more guidance.

Your local chamber of commerce or small business development center can assist business owners in understanding and managing regulatory compliance. These organizations specialize in aiding small business owners in navigating complex rules.

Financing Options for Entrepreneurs in Hawaii

Starting or expanding a business in Hawaii requires careful consideration of financing options. Before dipping into personal assets or maxing out credit cards, entrepreneurs should explore the many funding sources available in the state. Hawaii offers many financing opportunities, including federal and local resources.

Financing a New Business

Selecting the appropriate funding option for your new venture can be challenging, but it’s critical for the growth and sustainability of your business. Various options exist, from loans and grants to investments from venture capitalists or angel investors.

Comprehensive research and planning are crucial in pinpointing the financial resources that best match your business needs.

SBA Loans and Microloans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) extends several loan programs to aid ambitious entrepreneurs in bolstering their businesses, including the microloan program. Microloans are typically small, short-term loans designed to offer quick funding access to small businesses.


Visit
https://smallbusinessplans.com/sba-microloans-for-small-businessess-and-startups/


In Hawaii, the Pacific Gateway Center and Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. are intermediaries for SBA microloans, providing much-needed capital to eligible businesses. They also deliver support services like business mentoring and training to fortify new ventures.

SBA Microlenders in Hawaii

Pacific Gateway Center

Tina Hsia

723C Umi St Honolulu, HI 96819

Phone: (808) 851-7010

Email: tinahsia@pacificgatewaycenter.org

Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

Thelma Akita-Kealoha

99 Mahalani St Wailuku, HI 96793

Phone: (808) 249-2990

Email: thelma.akita@meoinc.org

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

91-1270 Kinoiki St. Bldg 1, Kapolei, HI 96707

Phone: (808)596-8155

Email:info@hawaiiancouncil.org

Website: https://www.hawaiiancouncil.org

State and Local Grants and Incentives

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism provides a range of grants and incentives to stimulate business activity within the state.

Key programs include

Enterprise Zones Partnership Program: Designed to stimulate economic activity and job growth in specific geographic areas.

Innovation Grants Program: Offers funding to accelerate the growth of Hawaii’s innovation economy, particularly in the technology and manufacturing sectors.

Angel Investor Groups

Startups often rely on venture capitalists and angel investors for vital funding. These investors offer a crucial source of capital in exchange for equity stakes or convertible debt. Hawaii houses several investment groups, such as the Hawaii Angels and Blue Startups, which provide significant funding opportunities and networking platforms for budding entrepreneurs.

Garnering the proper funding is a key component of launching a successful business. Therefore, investigating all available financing options is essential to identify the best fit for your business venture.

Benefits of a Well-Structured Business Plan

A well-structured business plan can be the cornerstone of success for entrepreneurs in Hawaii. It serves as a roadmap to steer the business toward its objectives and a persuasive tool to attract potential investors, partners, or clients. From startups to well-established businesses, every company can harness the power of a strong business plan to navigate the unique economic landscape of Hawaii.

One profound benefit of a well-crafted business plan is its clarity to business operations. It helps entrepreneurs distill their vision into actionable goals and strategies. In a dynamic business environment like Hawaii, with its booming tourism industry and emerging tech sector, having such clarity can be instrumental in staying focused and resilient in the face of challenges and changes.

Another significant advantage lies in financial planning. A robust business plan can help businesses in Hawaii estimate their revenue generation capabilities and operational costs with better accuracy. As a result, it can guide them in allocating resources efficiently, optimizing expenses, and managing cash flow effectively. This financial foresight can be particularly beneficial in Hawaii, where the cost of living and business operations can be higher than on the mainland.

Furthermore, a sound business plan can enhance decision-making capabilities. It enables entrepreneurs to analyze their competitive environment, understands their target market, and identify their unique selling propositions. In Hawaii’s diverse and multicultural market, this ability to make informed decisions can lead to a competitive advantage.

In funding and investment, a well-structured business plan is vital. It gives potential investors a clear view of a business’s strategies, financial projections, and market positioning. For entrepreneurs in Hawaii looking to secure funding from local investment groups, mainland investors, or even international financiers, having a compelling business plan can significantly improve their chances of success.

Meeting Lender and Investor Expectations

When establishing a business in Hawaii, securing funding can often be a decisive factor for success. Meeting the expectations of lenders and investors is therefore crucial, as they are the ones who can fuel the company’s growth and development with their financial backing.

Lenders and investors are keenly interested in understanding how a business will likely perform. They scrutinize the potential return on their investment and the level of risk involved. To satisfy their expectations, entrepreneurs should be able to present a compelling business case, demonstrating robust financial planning, solid market research, and a clear vision for the future. A comprehensive and well-structured business plan is instrumental in this respect.

Investors and lenders also place significant importance on the track record and credibility of the business owner. As a result, they are more likely to invest in or lend to businesses run by entrepreneurs with relevant experience, strong business acumen, and a record of past success. In this light, highlighting the entrepreneur’s credentials, expertise, and accomplishments can be a powerful way to meet lender and investor expectations.

The financial stability and solvency of the business are key factors for lenders and investors. They seek assurance that the business will generate sufficient cash flow to repay the loan or provide a return on investment. Providing realistic financial projections supported by rational assumptions and market data. In addition, showing a healthy balance of equity and debt and prudent management of assets and liabilities can help build confidence among lenders and investors.

Another key aspect is the business’s capacity to respond to challenges and opportunities. Investors and lenders prefer businesses that are agile and adaptable. This capacity in Hawaii’s dynamic and diverse business environment can significantly determine long-term success. Hence, demonstrating a sound understanding of the market, competitors, potential risks, and strategies to address them can effectively meet lender and investor expectations.

Where Can I Find a Mentor to Help Me Succeed?

In Hawaii, the road to entrepreneurial success is often built on the guidance of experienced mentors and business organizations. They provide essential insights and resources to elevate your business understanding, strategy, and operations.

Hawaii hosts numerous resources dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs. Some notable platforms and organizations include

  • Hawaii SCORE:

    A part of the national SCORE organization, a non-profit partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Hawaii SCORE offers accessible business mentorship and resources. You can tap into its pool of experienced volunteers who provide valuable guidance to aspiring business owners.
    Contact Info:
    Phone: (808) 547-2700
    Website: https://hawaii.score.org/

  • Hawaii Small Business Development Center (SBDC):

    The Hawaii SBDC Network provides professional business consultations, research, and training. They offer invaluable resources to new and existing businesses throughout Hawaii.
    Contact Info:
    Phone: (808) 945-1430
    Website: https://www.hisbdc.org/

  • Chamber of Commerce Hawaii:

    This organization can help connect you with business leaders, offering networking opportunities and resources to support your business journey in Hawaii.
    Contact Info:
    Phone: (808) 545-4300
    Website: https://cochawaii.org/

These resources can provide entrepreneurs with valuable advice, strategic insights, and a supportive network to establish and grow their businesses in Hawaii successfully.

The Economy of Hawaii

Understanding the state’s economic climate is crucial for entrepreneurs starting a business in Hawaii. Knowledge about economic trends, consumer behavior, and growth potential can significantly contribute to the success of your venture.

Economic Overview

Average Household Income

The median household income in Hawaii is $83,173, significantly above the United States national average, indicating potential purchasing power for businesses targeting the local population.

Average Level of Education

Regarding education, about 92.7% of Hawaii’s population aged 25 and above have completed high school, while approximately 34.3% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. This suggests a skilled workforce that can be an asset for businesses requiring specialized skills.

Consumer Spending per Capita

Hawaii’s consumption expenditures (PCE) has grown steadily at $49,155. This robust consumer spending implies a healthy market for various goods and services, offering promising opportunities for businesses across diverse sectors.

Top Industries in Hawaii:

Hawaii, widely known for its unique island geography, has a diverse economy that offers multiple avenues for entrepreneurs and businesses. Among its top industries, tourism holds the crown. The state’s natural beauty, rich culture, and pleasant weather attract millions of tourists yearly. This constant influx of visitors creates a thriving hospitality industry encompassing hotels, restaurants, retail, and various tourist services. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, visitor spending reached approximately $18 billion in 2019, significantly contributing to the state’s economy.

In addition to tourism, the real estate industry in Hawaii plays a substantial role in the state’s economic makeup. Hawaii’s unique location and limited land availability have driven property prices high, making real estate a premium industry. From residential to commercial properties, real estate in Hawaii presents a dynamic market with substantial investment opportunities.

Another significant industry in Hawaii is healthcare. As the state’s population ages, the demand for quality healthcare services has increased. The healthcare industry, therefore, plays an essential role in the local economy, providing employment opportunities and services to the state’s residents. Institutions like the Queen’s Health Systems and Hawaii Pacific Health are among the largest employers in the state.

Agriculture also holds historical and contemporary significance in Hawaii’s economy. While sugarcane and pineapple plantations were once the backbone of the economy, today’s agricultural scene is more diversified. Local farmers grow various crops, including macadamia nuts, coffee, and exotic fruits. Additionally, aquaculture is an emerging segment within Hawaii’s agricultural industry, with businesses farming seafood like tuna and shrimp for local consumption and export.

As we look towards the future, we see emerging industries taking root in Hawaii. For instance, given Hawaii’s abundant sun and wind resources, renewable energy has immense growth potential. The state government actively encourages renewable energy initiatives, aiming to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045. Also, tech startups are increasingly finding a home in Hawaii, aided by initiatives like the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, which supports innovative businesses in the state.

When considering the broader outlook for business in Hawaii, it’s clear that the future holds exciting opportunities. Entrepreneurs can expect to find a dynamic business environment supported by traditional and emerging industries. And while tourism, real estate, healthcare, and agriculture continue to provide solid foundations, new sectors like renewable energy and technology present fresh, innovative possibilities for business growth.

Thinking Broadly About Growing Your Business

  1. Identify Complementary Businesses: Forging strategic alliances with complementary businesses can offer manifold benefits in the business landscape. First, these relationships can open up opportunities for cross-promotion, collaboration, and even shared resources, ultimately boosting business performance. For instance, a home furnishing store might pair with a local interior design firm, offering their clients a combined package of services. This maximizes the value proposition for clients and expands the customer base for both businesses. Furthermore, these alliances can also foster innovation, as different businesses bring diverse perspectives and ideas.
  2. Leverage Workforce Talent: Your workforce is more than just a group of employees; it’s a goldmine of skills, creativity, and potential. Leveraging workforce talent means recognizing and utilizing these assets to drive your business forward. This can involve nurturing employees’ professional development, encouraging innovative thinking, and fostering a culture that values each individual’s unique abilities. When employees feel valued and engaged, they’re more likely to contribute their best work, ultimately benefiting the business. For example, a tech company might have a talented graphic designer who can contribute to marketing efforts or a skilled writer who can assist with proposal development. By identifying and utilizing these talents, businesses can improve efficiency, save costs, and boost productivity.
  3. Collaborate with Industry Leaders: Building relationships and collaborating with industry leaders can significantly boost your business. Industry leaders have a wealth of experience, expertise, and connections that can be incredibly beneficial. They can offer insights into industry trends, advice on strategic decision-making, and opportunities for partnerships or joint ventures. In addition, association with respected leaders can elevate your business’s credibility and visibility in the market. Whether attending industry events, joining professional organizations, or reaching out directly for mentorship or advice, forging ties with industry leaders can offer invaluable support as you navigate the business landscape.

Workforce and Talent

To make informed business decisions in Hawaii, it is important to understand the intricacies of the state’s workforce. The unique characteristics of the labor market, including demographics, skills, and educational background, can help guide your recruitment and training processes for optimal effectiveness.

Unemployment Rate

Hawaii’s unemployment rate is around 3.6%, slightly higher than the national average. Despite this, the labor market is diverse, providing a pool of workers with varied skills and backgrounds. Employers are therefore presented with opportunities to tap into a range of talent to fulfill their business requirements.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Hawaii is currently $12 per hour, providing businesses with a baseline for establishing their payroll structures. However, the high cost of living in the state often means employers may need to offer wages above this minimum to attract and retain employees.

Average Age and Demographics

In terms of age demographics, Hawaii’s median age is around 39.3 years. This balance of younger and more experienced workers allows businesses to benefit from fresh perspectives and seasoned expertise.

Breakdown of People with Various Levels of Education

Furthermore, the educational attainment of Hawaii’s population is noteworthy.

  1. 34.3% hold a bachelor’s degree.
  2. 92.7% have a high school diploma.
  3. 9.3% have no high school diploma.

Looking at the future, Hawaii continues to develop its workforce through education and vocational training programs, focusing on emerging industries like renewable energy, technology, and sustainable agriculture. This forward-thinking approach indicates a promising future for businesses looking to establish themselves in Hawaii, with a skilled and diverse workforce ready to meet their needs.

Top Areas of Skilled Workers for Residents of Hawaii

Hawaii is home to a diverse workforce with varied talents and skills, catering to the unique needs of its thriving sectors. However, some areas stand out regarding job opportunities due to the high demand for skilled workers. This section focuses on these specific areas, highlighting the prospects they present to the residents of Hawaii.

Tourism and hospitality, the backbone of Hawaii’s economy, provide numerous opportunities for skilled workers. These range from hotel and restaurant management to travel planning and tour guiding. As the industry recovers post-pandemic, more jobs are expected to become available in this sector. Professionals with language skills, customer service expertise, and local culture and environment knowledge can find rewarding careers here.

Hawaii’s healthcare sector also presents plentiful opportunities. With its aging population and the ever-growing need for health services, professionals in various healthcare disciplines, including physicians, nurses, and medical technicians, are in high demand. In addition, healthcare administrators and IT specialists will find promising career paths as the sector continually evolves with technological advancements.

In education, Hawaii offers many opportunities for teachers, especially those specializing in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects. In addition, there is a growing need for special education teachers and education administrators. As Hawaii continues to invest in its education system, opportunities in this sector are expected to grow.

The construction industry is another area with robust demand for skilled workers. Hawaii’s infrastructure development projects and residential construction work create a steady demand for construction managers, civil engineers, architects, and skilled tradespeople.

Hawaii’s tech sector, although still budding, is also a promising field. With the state’s drive to develop a more sustainable and tech-driven economy, opportunities for software developers, IT specialists, data analysts, and cybersecurity experts are rising.

In summary, Hawaii offers diverse opportunities for its skilled workforce. Understanding the top areas of skilled workers and the job prospects they offer can help residents align their career aspirations and skill development efforts with market demand.

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