In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

A look at TMT’s potential impact on Hawaii Island’s economy

Sponsored by the nonprofit partnership of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory

Many people don’t know that the astronomy sector began 50 years ago in Hawaii as a direct result of the 1960 tsunami. It devastated Hawaii Island and local business leaders were looking for a way to revitalize the economy. Hawaii Island is again struggling today following the devastating Kilauea eruptions and storms of 2018 and some believe that TMT and other observatories will become key players in contributing to Hawaii Island’s economy.

Following the 1960 tsunami, Hilo was in shambles economically. Government, business and community leaders had to look for ways to emerge out of it. Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Mits Akiyama, a 442nd WWII veteran, took the lead to seek economic opportunities for Hilo. He was the driving force along with Governor John A. Burns and state and local officials to establish the new industry that was astronomy atop Mauna Kea. Little did Akiyama and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce know that they would overachieve and create a thriving high tech industry that would attract partner countries from around the world, help to establish the Institute for Astronomy and establish the University of Hawaii as one of the premier universities in the world to study astronomy.

1,400 jobs statewide are sustained by astronomy with economic impacts of $90 million per year on Hawaii Island and $170 million per year statewide. On Hawaii Island, astronomy employs more than 800 people and creates more than $28 million in paychecks.

The astronomy industry will continue to be pivotal in helping to continue to enhance the island’s economic diversity. Astronomy as an industry in the United States is based in Hawaii and on Mauna Kea. Keck Observatory, Subaru Telescope, Canada France Hawaii, and Gemini Observatory are producing groundbreaking science and providing opportunities for kama’aina seeking careers in STEM endeavors.

TMT is already benefiting the Hawaii community through its significant investment in educational opportunities for the island’s keiki. To date, that investment includes over $4 million to The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) Fund at Hawaii Community Foundation and Pauahi Foundation. TMT will continue to contribute $1 million per year to the THINK Fund for scholarship and STEM programming for Hawaii Island students.

Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope alone is estimated to be in excess of $1.4 billion and will use local union labor. TMT will spend an additional $1 million per year in its Workforce Pipeline Program to provide a pathway for kama’aina to get the high paying, high tech jobs of the future.

As astronomy thrives, Hawaii island thrives. Mauna Kea must remain a world-class astronomy center, expanding to new technologies, to ensure the island and the state maintain its leadership roles in advancing scientific research.

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