Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Uh research could lift
Hawaii economy

A cartoon in my mind's eye shows a gigantic balloon lifting a large platter labeled "Hawaii Economy." The balloon is called "University of Hawaii Research." Its lifting power is substantial already, yet it is far from fully inflated.

The fuel that inflates the lift comes in a wide variety of forms. It could come from more in the future.

To wit:

Astronomical research based on our natural geographic advantages already has brought hundreds of millions in investment to the Big Island.

Cancer research based on our multi-cultural living laboratory is bringing into Hawaii each year several times the university's original investment in the Cancer Research Center.

The health state Governor Cayetano visualizes to draw people here for health care in congenial surroundings will get a main lift from a strong UH Medical School with research/training branches in all our major hospitals.

The School of Ocean, Earth Science and Technology receives $13 million from UH, brings in $43 million in grants and could do much more.

Tropical agriculture research at America's only major university in the tropics is stimulating significant growth in diversified agriculture.

Bio-technology is at an exciting juncture with mouse cloning. A consortium called Hawaii Biotechnology Group, mostly of UH units, has raised $20 million. It dreams of much more.

Before we move to greatness, UH basic education must upgrade the knowledge, wisdom and critical thinking of public school graduates. It must better prepare them for the global economy of the future. Rubbing elbows with discovery won't hurt.

ASIDE from UH, we have other research institutions such as Oceanic Institute to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture expand food supplies from the sea just as USDA for years has worked to help farmers produce more food from America's fields. So did Hawaii sugar and pineapple research stations.

We have the Maui Research and Technology Park centered around one of the world's most powerful supercomputers. The computer's primary mission is to support telescopes atop Haleakala that track objects in space. Its capacity is so great it can be tapped, too, by private enterprise.

We also have the East-West Center with its immodest goal of being a catalyst to bring Asia/Pacific nations toward economic and political collaborations that will match the amazing progress of most of Europe toward unity and peace.

These also help the research balloon lift the economy. Much of their work interconnects with UH and taps into their trainees.

I think I observe Governor Cayetano and the Legislature putting a primary focus on finding spare 1999-2001 dollars to improve public education. This deserves its high priority but needs better management practices as much as it needs new dollars.

UH is essential, too. The governor acknowledged this in his State of the State speech, but gave it mandates that will be budget-straining without more funds. The tenured faculty, by the way, is only 69 percent Caucasian, not all-haole as the governor grumped when it didn't endorse him for re-election.

California's prosperous Silicon Valley, mentioned by the governor, is research-created. Now its productivity feeds hundreds of millions into Stanford University and other institutions whose patents its industry uses.

Stanford's was the research balloon that lifted the South-of-San Francisco economy. UH research can be ours.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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