Christopher Benjamin, president and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin (NYSE: ALEX), participated in a video interview in conjunction with Nareit’s REITweek: Virtual Investor Conference (held June 2-4).
Benjamin said that because Hawaii is an isolated chain of islands, it was able to do a great job of containing COVID-19 by cutting off the flow of tourists entering the state. With tourism vital to Hawaii’s economy though, and with Alexander & Baldwin serving as the largest owner of grocery and drug-anchored retail in the state, he said the challenge now is how to approach reopening in a safe manner.
“The good news is we can open up locally and remain very safe,” he said. “We have essentially a safe travel bubble between the islands that we can operate in.”
Benjamin said that COVID-19 has allowed Alexander & Baldwin to demonstrate many of its historic environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strengths, including its commitment to its community and employees, while also allowing the REIT to strengthen other areas like reducing its carbon footprint. He said that as a founding member of the Hawaii Sustainability Business Forum, Alexander & Baldwin has been involved in the discussion about how to preserve and protect environmental advances that have been made due to COVID-19.
Benjamin added that Alexander & Baldwin’s tenants range from essential businesses to national brands to local companies, so the REIT has been having one-on-one conversations with tenants to best keep them apprised throughout the pandemic.
Benjamin also said that all of Alexander & Baldwin’s centers were open as of late May and that the REIT was collecting the majority of its rent, but that some tenants inevitably won’t be able to weather the financial hardship.
“An interesting potential play [though] is the notion of de-urbanization as people go to more remote working,” he said. “We’re certainly going to be very focused on identifying those shifts that take place as a result of COVID-19...and try to take advantage of [them] in our portfolio.”