Our Islands, Our Future

Appearing as a speaker at Maui Economic Development Board’s Innovation Series, University of Hawai‘i President M.R.C. Greenwood rallied local leaders to support investment in the HI2 Innovation Initiative. The initiative, according to Greenwood, will act as an economic fuel cell, generating new discoveries, creating thousands of jobs and putting more money into Hawaii’s economy, she said. Greenwood said the university’s research work already attracts $500 million to the state’s economy. And, she said, that means “jobs, lots of jobs, lots of well-paying jobs.”

However, Greenwood said research and development only makes up about 3 percent of Hawai‘i’s economy, which is dominated by spending in government, tourism, real estate and the military. To illustrate Hawai‘i’s potential for growth, she pointed to San Diego, which in the 1960s, “looked very much the way we do today,” with an economy based on the same sectors. But since then, San Diego, which is made up of seven counties, has pursued research and development aggressively, so today, makes up 14 percent of its economy. “They have clearly gotten their act together,” she said. If Hawai‘i were to pursue the same course, particularly if government were to join businesses and the community in supporting the university’s research and development work, then Hawai‘i could draw $750 million to $1 billion in research and development funding as well as start-up and spin-off companies, she said. “It needs to be a creature of the community,” she said, referring to HI2.

For Maui, the university is proceeding with development of the ATST solar telescope atop Haleakalā, which Greenwood said, would bring millions of dollars into the island’s economy as well as “generate a lot of new technology and a lot of new ideas.” The University of Hawai‘i is poised to be the first university in the country to have satellite launch capacity, she said. Greenwood pointed to development of clean energy, new agriculture and cancer research as areas of opportunity for the university.

MEDB’s Innovation Series is expected to host in 2013 Dr. Hank Wuh, surgeon and inventor; Karin Frost, a Maui resident and inventor of the Ergo Baby Carrier, which produces baby products; and video game designer and environmental philanthropist Henk Rogers.