LOOKING BACK 2009
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
After a century in agriculture, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. got out of the pineapple business for good as 2009 drew to a close.
About 285 workers lost their jobs when pineapple cultivation ended, but the shutdown was just the culmination of a long year of changes for a company struggling just to stay in business.
Early in the year, the company sold its Plantation Golf Course for $50 million to pay down some of its mounting debts. In February, ML&P eliminated 100 jobs at the Kapalua Resort and at its Kahului headquarters in yet another round of layoffs, with the remaining employees taking a 10 percent pay cut. Then in May, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Webber resigned after just six months on the job, being replaced by board Chairman Warren Haruki as interim CEO.
The company continued to lose money through the year, reporting in October that it had lost $92.9 million in the first three quarters of 2009 – greater than the $71.6 million it lost for all of 2008. Much of the losses was attributed to the plummeting value of ML&P’s real estate investments, and the October report also revealed that the company had lost all of the money it had originally invested in its Kapalua Bay Holdings venture.
Still, nobody was quite ready to hear the news in November that the company was shutting down its pineapple operations.
“It was coming, but we had hope,” ILWU Maui Division Director Willie Kennison said at the time. “We were grasping at straws, hoping for the best.”
Then on Monday, the company filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission that showed auditors had “serious doubts” about the company’s ability to stay in business. At the same time, ML&P officials said they still hoped to turn the company’s finances around with a secondary equity offering to bring in new investment from existing shareholders.
And in the final hours of 2009, officials of the newly formed Haliimaile Pineapple Co. announced an agreement to take over pineapple farming operations from ML&P, saving at least 65 jobs, and keeping ono Maui Gold in island stores.
Pineapple was not pau after all.