Saturday, June 30, 2007


Newspapers' high tech darling about to skip town?

It seems that any news about Hoku Scientific makes the top of the Business section in the Advertiser. It's obviously their current high tech darling, a Hawaii success story. Trouble is, although it may be a success, there's nothing keeping Hoku (or most other high tech companies) in Hawaii. Unless you count those receiving government welfare in the form of a high tech tax credit.

Hoku Scientific Inc. downsizing in Kapolei describes a process that is all too familiar: a high tech company starts up, becomes the shining star of Hawaii's high-tech firmament, and then moves jobs away from the islands.

No matter. Promotion of high-tech continues. In place of Hoku, expect another company to take its place in the firmament one day.

When does this stop? You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

Hoku has to do what its bean counters require in order to maximize profit:

The company has increasingly been focusing on its polysilicon plant in Idaho.

The $6 million Kapolei headquarters was opened in late 2005. At the time, the 14,000-square-foot office, manufacturing and research and development facility at 1075 'Opakapaka Street was double the company's former digs, a 7,000-square-foot facility in Kalihi.

Now, Hoku may well be a great company to invest in. Investors are not usually philanthropists, however, and they expect a return on their money. If profits require that the company move to the Mainland, that's exactly what the company will do.

Somehow the papers fail to distinguish between a good investment and what's good for Hawaii. Any change in Hoku's stock price gets an article at or near the top of the business page. I know there are better investments out there, why no stories? Because Hoku Scientific is a Hawaii company. For now.

We need an economic model of Hawaii that will suggest sound government policies. Right now, it's possible that the best local "high tech" jobs may be in DBEDT and other organizations promoting high tech. How much are we paying these people?

Now, it would be strange if there were not some high tech here (or in Wyoming, for that matter). And there is, on Maui, for example. That's not the point. The point is employment. Jobs! People are desperate for opportunities better than sweeping floors or making beds in hotels. With high-tech companies taking their tax breaks and then moving work to the Mainland, we are in fact subsidizing jobs on the Mainland instead of here.

Is there an alternative to tourism and to building more and more houses until we destroy what's left of Paradise? It would be great to work at finding it.

The governor is chasing after an already dead dream with her "Innovation" initiative. It's really no innovation at all, just another way to subsidize Mainland jobs. Our best engineering graduates will continue to leave the islands seeking better jobs elsewhere unless we can find something for them to do here.

Robotics are an excellent way to interest our students in science and engineering, but everyone knows that robots won't be built here. We're working on one piece of the problem (education) while not providing jobs for our educated graduates.

What we need is innovation in planning for the state's future.


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