From an economic point of view, Hawaii often seems trapped by its successes — and the limitations of a relatively small, remote economy.

Our economy is driven mostly by tourism, but related jobs tend to pay little relative to the high cost of living here, development concerns limit visitor-industry growth and many of the profits leave the islands. Two other long-time economic drivers for Hawaii are the military and federal largesse, but both seem to be capped, in real terms, or facing decline due to changing budget priorities in the nation’s capital.

So what can Hawaii do to generate sizable new private- and public-sector sources of revenue, while also helping to generate more good salaries going forward?

How about an injection of $1 billion annually in research? That’s one eye-catching proposal in a just-released innovation report commissioned by the Hawaii Business Roundtable.

Left, Judith Bises and Marlon Sarmiento from 50/50 Agency work at the BoxJelly in Kakaako.  25 march 2015. photograph cory Lum/CIvil Beat

Judith Bises, left, and Marlon Sarmiento from 50/50 Agency work at the BoxJelly in Kakaako. There are more than 20,000 “core tech” sectors in the islands.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Hawaii Innovation Assets Report for 2014-2015 calls on the University of Hawaii to dramatically scale up its research activities over the next five to seven years until $1 billion is spent annually.

A fraction of that amount is currently spent in the state, which is part of why, on the Information Technology and Innovation Fund think tank’s Innovation Capacity Index, Hawaii ranks 23d out of 50 states

Based on research and information supplied by leaders in business and education, as well as the counties, the 72-page innovation report offers a roadmap aimed at making the state economy more dynamic and better suited to entrepreneurial activity.

Richard Wacker, the president and CEO of American Savings Bank who co-chaired the University of Hawaii Research and Innovation Task Force that produced the report, said in a written statement that this is the “first of many steps to stimulate engagement of the broader community to look for innovative ways to support growth across our islands.”

The report calls on the state’s business community to work more closely with researchers at public institutions — including by mobilizing private sector capital in complementary efforts. Other ideas include improving the sharing of technology and the opening up of university research facilities to the business community in order to lower costs for small companies, and more business community mentoring of aspiring entrepreneurs.

With an eye toward achieving such goals, the innovation assets report includes a “baseline accounting” of the state’s technology industry assets in research and education, start-up companies, innovative jobs and “entrepreneurial development programs,” which includes growth initiatives, investment funds and accelerator programs.

In 2013, the report calculates, there were 1,500 companies employing more than 20,000 people in the “core tech sector,” which refers to industries that focus on tech research, product development and related services.

The basic logic is that to know how to manage your assets efficiently, you need to assess what they are.

The task force’s other co-chair David Lassner, who is also the president of the University of Hawaii system, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report that such information can help the relevant actors to “work together … to create a robust economic sector in our state around innovation and research.”

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