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High Tech, U.S.-Asian Business Power Hawaii's Economy

Aug/Sep 08
Tourism continues to provide a major source of income and growth in Hawaii. Additionally, "research & development, U.S. defense technology, astronomy, ocean science and technology, sustainable energy technology, and creative industries such as film and recorded music are quickly becoming additional sources of economic support," says Robert L. Shore, economics research program manager, Research and Economic Analysis Division of the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Driven by the University of Hawaii Medical School, biotechnology and life sciences are also taking root. Shore estimates that science and technology in Hawaii currently accounts for about $3 billion, or 5 percent of the state's GSP.

 "Hawaii is also a strategic catalyst for U.S.-Asian political and business relationships, through such institutions as the East-West Center and Japan-America Institute of Management Science," says Shore. "Our geographic location and natural resources allow companies to explore Asian markets, and conduct energy, life science and ocean research, with the advantages of a modern U.S. city and highly educated work force." Hawaii's working hours overlap the work hours of both the U.S. East Coast and major Asian cities, making the state a good match for Pacific regional headquarters.

The Aloha State maintains a 100 percent tax credit for investment in qualifying high-technology businesses, along with a 20 percent research tax credit and tax credits for qualifying film productions. Also, the University of Hawaii will design and deliver custom training programs tailored to new companies' needs. The High Technology Development Corporation maintains a system of technology parks and incubators and assists in securing SBIR and STTR funding with some state matching grants.

In emerging activity, "the Island of Oahu (Honolulu County) is home to a vast network of research and development in life sciences though the University of Hawaii Medical School complex, ocean research, film and digital media production, and a well-developed information technology sector, with significant broadband capacity," says Shore. Honolulu is home to about 83 percent of the state's 31,000 private and public technology sector workers. As the southernmost and largest island, Hawaii County is the state's center for astronomy and alternate energy. Maui County houses defense/aerospace facilities and the Maui High Performance Computing Center owned by the U.S. Air Force and managed by the University of Hawaii. Finally, Kauai County in the extreme northwest is home to major defense aerospace activity through the Pacific Missile Range Facility, the world's largest instrumented, multi-environment testing range capable of supporting surface, subsurface, and air-training exercises and operations simultaneously.