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May 6, 2011
Financial Executives Inernational Hawai‘i

Research as an Industry: Innovation and Hawai‘i’s New Economy

As financial professionals for many of Hawai‘i’s leading businesses, I know you all understand the importance of investing now to insure future success. This philosophy holds especially true for my business as well—the business of higher education.

As the state’s sole system of public higher education, the University of Hawai‘i plays a central role in developing and disseminating the knowledge, and training the workforce, to ensure Hawai‘i’s educational and economic success in this rapidly changing global environment.

Our unique, integrated university system—comprised of a world-renowned research campus, two diverse baccalaureate campuses, seven strong and successful community colleges and research and education centers across the state—is an extraordinary asset, unlike any other in the nation. It provides us with a distinct advantage to explore and build innovative partnerships to accomplish together what we would not be able to achieve separately.

The best universities inspire collaboration and stimulate innovation both within and outside their institutional boundaries. Our goal is to build on the strengths and opportunities we have in Hawai‘i to make UH the best performing system of higher education in the country.

Among these strengths and opportunities is the university’s role as a revenue center and an important economic driver for the state. It may surprise you, but the University of Hawai‘i is one of Hawai‘i’s top businesses. Over the last three years, we’ve been listed in the Top 6 of Hawai‘i Business magazine’s Top 250. Last year, we were No. 3.

On that list, our line of business is identified as higher education and research. It’s through this line of business that the university adds money, jobs and talented people to the state’s economy. UH faculty generated more than $450 million in outside funding during the 2009–2010 academic year. That’s more than $1 million each day that is helping to create new knowledge, ideas and products. More than 70 percent of that funding goes directly towards jobs. UH is supporting employment for Hawai‘i’s citizens and fueling the state’s economy.

With this academic year about to come to a close, we’re on track to match that amount received in extramural funding, which is remarkable considering the current economic challenges we’re facing locally and nationally. This accomplishment is a testament to our dedicated faculty, many of whom are the best in their fields, renowned around the world for their expertise and their important research work.

For example, our Institute for Astronomy is one of the largest and most respected university programs in the world. We have two of the best sites in the world for astronomical observations located here—Mauna Kea on the Big Island and Haleakala on Maui. Mauna Kea was named the preferred site for the Thirty Meter Telescope, which will be the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth when completed in 2018. UH scientists will be full participants in all aspects of the TMT journey, while the capital investment and jobs created by the project will boost the state’s economy and provide for local educational and workforce development programs.

I know this group appreciates numbers, so let me illustrate the impact of this investment for you. The current telescopes on Mauna Kea represent a capital investment of close to $1 billion. TMT will double that. The observatories provide over 500 quality jobs in a clean high-tech industry. TMT will increase this number by at least 140.

Beyond the simple numbers though is the fact that astronomy diversifies the state’s economy and gives local young people with scientific and technical talents a wealth of opportunities to realize their potential without having to leave home.

The university is also moving forward with the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, in partnership with the National Science Foundation. After an exhaustive search, Haleakala was identified as the best site in the world for solar astronomy. When the solar telescope is completed, it will be a huge leap forward in our ability to understand the sun and its ability to affect life on earth.

This project is also a shining example of what we can achieve for Hawai‘i by working together, as it will bring not only the best solar telescope in the world but also a package of community benefits to cultivate and reinforce the intersection of Hawaiian culture and knowledge with science, technology, engineering and math programs at UH Maui College and elsewhere.

The University of Hawai‘i also partners with numerous national and international agencies on ocean and climate research. The School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology is an international leader in such diverse fields as tropical meteorology, coral reef ecosystems, volcanology, microbial oceanography, hyperspectral remote sensing, climate modeling and alternative energy.

The International Pacific Research Center, a research unit of SOEST, is dedicated to improving our understanding of climate variations and change in the Asia Pacific region. The center operates under a cooperative agreement between the university and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

In just a week after the Japan tsunami, our researchers from this unit had developed computer models to track the Japan tsunami debris and predict when we can expect to see this debris hit Hawai‘i shores and the West Coast. These model predictions developed using real-time satellite data and the researchers’ knowledge of ocean currents are helping to guide clean-up efforts and tracking operations.

Renewable energy and sustainable technologies are also strong facets of our growing research portfolio. The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute, also a research unit of SOEST, works to develop renewable energy resources and technologies to reduce Hawai‘i’s dependence on fossil fuels. Hawai‘i, the most remote archipelago in the world, remains the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation. Hawai‘i is almost seven times greater in its dependence on petroleum to generate electricity in comparison to the next closest state. With the natural resources available to us—the wind, sun, ocean and volcanoes—Hawai‘i can reduce its dependence and become a leader for the country and the Asia-Pacific region not just in developing renewable energy technologies but also in implementing them.

The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute conducts research in biofuels, bioenergy from bacterial and microalgal systems, fuel cells and wave and ocean thermal energy. UH has established partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research and private industry relationships with HECO, GE Global Research, First Wind and others in wave energy research efforts and projects related to “smart grid” technology tied to wind and photovoltaics.

Not only are we expanding our research efforts in these areas, but we’re providing our students with practical training while also reducing our own energy footprint. Clean, sustainable energy projects are not just about energy costs but also about training the future workforce in this emerging field. Currently, there are 9,000 jobs in Hawai‘i defined as green. That number is expected to increase over the next two years by more than 27 percent. Addressing these workforce needs and developing sustainable technologies will continue to be important for the future.

Just this week, the university formalized a partnership with the U.S. Pacific Command that will explore enhanced areas of collaboration including renewable energy, water and disaster management. These are arguably two of the most powerful and influential forces in our state—the military and the university—coming together with a shared vision of cooperation in education, practice and research activity. We look forward to what we’re going to accomplish together.

Beyond the environmental and economic benefits of the research UH conducts, there is an important humanitarian element that transcends borders and reaches throughout the Asia-Pacific region. This is also an important part of our partnership with PACOM. Faculty and students in our nursing programs will have the opportunity to participate in military humanitarian missions. PACOM has done some extraordinary work in Japan assisting in disaster relief efforts.

In the health and life sciences, experts from multiple disciplines throughout our Manoa and Hilo campuses, including those in medicine, social sciences, public health, natural sciences, information technology, pharmacy and cancer research, are coming together to coordinate innovative discoveries to target specific health problems like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, dementia and cancer.

We broke ground in late October on a new facility for our University of Hawai&#&699;i Cancer Center. The foundation was recently completed, walls are beginning to rise and construction is ahead of schedule. The project will usher in a new era for cancer care in our state, and has come to fruition thanks to a statewide alliance involving the largest healthcare partners in Hawai‘i.

Hawai‘i’s cancer center is one of only 66 National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the nation. The new facility, in cooperation with our hospital partners, will expand and accelerate our efforts to understand and treat cancer herei. For example, the center’s specialized work in liver cancer, which disproportionately affects those of Asian descent, will hold major benefits for our community. This work will do more than change our economic outlook—it will save lives.

Though we’ve established these partnerships and advancements in research and innovation, we know that there is more the University of Hawai‘i can do. To help address the need to grow and diversify our economy, we have created the President’s Advisory Council on Hawai‘i Innovation and Technology Advancement. The council teams our UH experts with others who are among the best and brightest in their fields from private industry and from major research institutions, including Stanford University and UC San Diego. They are helping us chart a new course to enhance the success and impact of our research programs for our economy.

Earlier this year, we shared the council’s draft report, which includes four recommendations for the University of Hawai‘i to create an innovation economy for the state.

  1. Recommendation #1: Identify research as an industry in Hawai‘i, particularly in special opportunity areas where Hawai‘i has a significant strategic advantage. We are a $500 million industry right now and we expect to be $1 billion in the next decade.
  2. Recommendation #2: Identify a mechanism to do this. It is suggested that we establish HiTEx, the Hawai‘i Innovation Technology Exchange Institute, to help accelerate commercialization of university innovations. A new innovation model is urged, providing public and private collaboration around translational research and offering assistance to start-ups from proof of concept centers and innovation centers. This is a model that is being implemented around the nation.
  3. Recommendation #3: Identify key areas to capitalize on commercialization opportunities for Hawai‘i, including Security and Sustainability: Energy and Agriculture, Data Analytics and Asian-Pacific Health.
  4. Recommendation #4: Encourage collaboration by integrating entrepreneurship into the university’s curriculum. We really want to develop a culture of entrepreneurialism amongst the university community. We want to expose all of our students to an understanding of the nimbleness and importance of it.

We are working to help create the jobs our students and the state are looking for and position the university as a leader in innovation and technology, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

You may view the advisory council’s report and its recommendations online.

As you can see, the University of Hawai‘i, and the state of Hawai‘i, are well positioned to be a leader nationally and particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. We are a premier state and the best to look at a number of issues that reflect the diversity of the area. Hawai‘i is a wonderful microcosm; the nation’s most diverse state and a perfect mirror of the populations of the Asia-Pacific region.

That is why it is so fitting that we will serve as the host for the 2011 APEC Summit. This will be one of the greatest opportunities for our state and the university. I am honored to represent the university and serve as a member of the Hawai‘i Host Committee. We will showcase to the world the power of strategic collaborations and innovation.

I’d like to leave you with an observation from James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan and university professor of science and engineering. Duderstadt, who co-chairs the University of Michigan’s Science, Technology and Public Policy Programs and directs the Millennium Project, a research center exploring the impact of over-the-horizon technologies on society, was a keynote speaker on research and development at our first-ever University of Hawai‘i Higher Education Summit held last September. Regarding our potential, Duderstadt said:

Hawaii has extraordinary assets—a highly effective and coordinated system of higher education capable of expanding college attainment and lifelong learning; an unusually diverse population with ties to Asia and North America; and a world-class research campus ranking among many of the leading U.S institutions. My sense is all the pieces are there. It will require investment. It will require bold vision. It will require community interactions. The University of Hawai‘i is very much the future of the state of Hawai‘i.