Big projects, big names and big grants. As the University of Hawaii picks up more research dollars, the benefits to the state as a whole are really starting to add up
If you build it they will come. That was the Pied Piper call Edwin Cadman intoned as he campaigned before the Hawaii state Legislature for $150 million in construction funding for a brand-new facility for the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) in Kakaako. Cadman speaks in a confident, but unassuming, manner that has won him many friends at the Legislature and around the state. Thus far, he's also lived up to his word. In fiscal 2003, the medical school faculty garnered $46 million in external grants and contracts from state, federal and private sources. That's up 671 percent from fiscal 1999, the year before Cadman took the helm.
Equally important, the JABSOM dean has reeled in a string of big-ticket grants and high-powered faculty additions during the past two years. Last year he matched $5 million from The Queen's Health Systems with another $4.6 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a department of Native Hawaiian medicine at JABSOM. In late November 2003, Cadman announced another coup - a $9.6 million NIH grant to establish the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research. It will be one of three key programs in the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, a novel JABSOM initiative that Cadman created, in part to lure esteemed researcher Duane J. Gubler from a prestigious post at the Centers for Disease Control. "The economic model is that our faculty will generate on an annual basis between $60 million and $80 million dollars in external funding. Some of the discoveries made in the medical school laboratories will be innovative enough to start small biotech companies in Kakaako," says Cadman.
The momentum Cadman has created is hardly an isolated happenstance. Across a wide range of programs, the University of Hawaii has kicked it up a notch. In the School of Ocean, Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), the University of Hawaii took over management last year of a brand-new, $54-milllion, state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel built with federal funds. At the same time, SOEST has grown its grant intake from $37 million in 1999 to more than $60 million in fiscal 2003, a hefty 62 percent increase. At the Institute for Astronomy, professor Nick Kaiser is overseeing a $50-million effort to build a sophisticated asteroid spotting telescope to be located atop Mauna Kea or Haleakala (See story on pg. 18). Another ambitious and talented researcher, Peter Gorham, was a finalist for a $35 million NASA grant to build a ultra-high altitude balloon that would soar above Antartica and measure the elusive passage of neutrinos. These super-charged sub-atomic particles may hold keys to the origins of the Universe and the nature of matter. "It bodes well for UH that they are recognizing us as having this kind of capability to take a major role on this type of mission. In the future, we may well have a leg up on the next big mission," says Gorham.
Not surprisingly, the median value of a research grant at UH has soared. For the first four months of fiscal 2004, between July 1, 2003, and Oct. 31, 2003, the average grant value clocked in at $232,769. That's up 35.2 percent from the average grant value of $172,169 logged during the first four months of fiscal 2001. Also, in fiscal 2003, the UH set an all-time record for outside funding, netting $324 million from federal, state and private sources. By all accounts, the UH is on track to top that in the coming year with $156.8 million already recorded for the first four months of fiscal 2004.
According to Bank of Hawaii economist, Paul Brewbaker, each dollar that arrives in the UH coffer creates about $2.10 in economic activity through ripple affects of hiring additional staff, paying for services, buying computers and other secondary and tertiary impacts. That means external funding coming into the UH added about $679 million to Hawaii's economy in 2003, a significant factor. What's more, by Brewbaker's estimates, the so-called "multiplier effect" for educational services handily outstrips that of any other significant industry in Hawaii.
To be fair, to a certain degree, that figure overstates the reality. About two-thirds of Gorham's money will be spent at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., as mandated by the terms of the grant, which holds that the principal investigator must partner with a NASA center to perform the mission itself. Many other big-ticket grants go in part to collaborators and partners outside the state. But that crude measurement fails to take into account some other factors that will benefit Hawaii's economy enormously over time. "UH research and development is part of a global complex of investments in human and knowledge capital that pays off over time. So, in a sense, federally funded research is particularly important because it gives Hawaii the resources to share in global knowledge-capital formation and also to reap future benefits from today's investments in R&D," explains Brewbaker. He points to the UH's tropical agriculture program as an example. This program and its research laid a solid foundation for the diversified agriculture operations that have replaced the big plantations. While the value of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) may not have been apparent when the plantations were doing well, it's clear now.
Furthermore, pure science of the type that Gorham and Kaiser are now engaged in sometimes creates valuable commercial spin-offs that may have significant value outside Hawaii. That's because these types of specialized research efforts entail not only pondering esoteric topics, but also building software, customized testing equipment and other things that are needed to carry out the experiments. They also require the type of innovation and problem solving that can easily translate into the commercial realm. Big research universities, such as University of California Berkeley and Harvard, have been able to successfully leverage these discoveries into millions of dollars in annual license revenues from patents won by university researchers. The UH lags way behind those marquee names in licensing revenues. However, under Richard Cox, the Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development (OTTED) has steadily grown its patent portfolio. Now Cox and others believe the school has a handful of technologies that should prove highly lucrative. (See "Hot Patents" on pg. 10) "We are probably the biggest technology company in Hawaii right now," says University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye says, "All too often we sell the University of Hawaii short. In some disciplines, UH holds positions of preeminence that are only known and truly appreciated beyond our State's borders. In the area of dual-use defense technology, UH researchers and graduates are making lasting contributions, which are building the critical mass needed to sustain a high-tech industry in Hawaii."
Once the research dynamo kicks in and the school's reputation starts to build, then a virtuous feedback loop develops. Take the arrival of Advanced Photonics Integrated Circuits from Los Angeles. The small photonics research and development company announced in October 2003 that it would build a clean room for photonics prototype fabrication in a 10,000-square-foot Kaakako facility near the site of the new medical school facility. To ensure a steady supply of trained researchers, Advanced Photonics made a $500,000 donation to the UH engineering school and offered to help raise another $500,000. The $1 million total would go toward an endowed chair in photonics. In addition, Advanced Photonics agreed to let UH faculty perform experiments at the facility, an invaluable offer, as Hawaii has no other clean-room facility at present. Advanced Photonics chose UH, in part, because a young set of faculty researchers has in the past five years shown great success in winning grants and building the school's reputation outside Hawaii. Now the company will pay taxes in Hawaii, create jobs in Hawaii and provide a viable outlet for applied research in Hawaii.
Advanced Photonics may be an early adopter, but others are coming, too. Tissue Genesis, headed by local technology executive Anton Krucky, built a wet-lab research facility in the Gold Bond Building adjacent to the med school campus site. Also, in the past year, economic development nonprofit Enterprise Honolulu said it had to turn away eight biotech startups seeking to locate in Hawaii near the med school. The reason? Lack of leasable lab space. This should be just a temporary problem, if Kamehameha Schools' plans for a biotech office park next to the new medical campus come to fruition.
Cadman's goal of 20 to 30 biotech startups clustered around JABSOM may take years to achieve, as will critical mass in other commercial sectors that could feed directly off UH research. However, "… Everywhere there is a flourishing economy based on knowledge technology sectors, new discoveries, new inventions, new creations, it's university-based R&D. This university is doing really well. It's really building the knowledge foundation upon which commercialization will be based going forward," says Mike Fitzgerald, chief executive officer of Enterprise Honolulu.
Beyond these high-visibility projects and contingent efforts to build industries around them, research grants to UH serve less glamorous, but equally important, roles. Take the case of David Duffy, director of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit. A botanist by training, Duffy has become a prolific grant winner, who has built PCSU into a project powerhouse, with works extending across the state. During the first 11 months of 2003, Duffy received $14 million in funding from 138 separate grants. For everything from stamping out miconia in Maui to protecting the flanks of sensitive mountain habitats from pigs and goats to studying malaria in Hawaii's endemic birds, Duffy has gotten a grant for PCSU and its researchers.
His funds employ dozens of workers across the state, often in remote areas where good jobs are scarce, performing desperately needed conservation work. "We hire stone masons in Kona and people to walk the backcountry on Maui to fight invasive species and lots of other folks. They make $25,000 per year or so. It's not a high-tech job, but it lets them live where they want to live and do good work," says Duffy. While much of what his teams do is grunt work, Duffy's research and efforts could help preserve Hawaii's unique native flora and fauna and, by extension, the valuable chemical and medicinal compounds they might contain. Of course, plenty of Duffy's research involves sophisticated biology and detailed investigations that require high levels of training. However, the diversity of his portfolio illustrates how smaller, low-profile grants still exert a powerful influence on the state's economy.
At the UH's Hilo campus, Chancellor Rose Tseng has quietly engineered a marked increase in funding during her tenure. Through the first 11 months of calendar year 2003, UHH has brought in $22.7 million in extramural funding. That compares to $7.4 million for all of 2002 and $5.2 million for all of 2001. The impact of this money can't be overstated in Hilo, says Tseng. The old town has struggled ever since the sugar mills closed two decades ago. Small niches in diversified agriculture have grown up around the fringes, but, now, UHH is driving economic growth in the city more than any other entity, as its enrollment increases and its popularity with foreign students seeking a safe, small-college-town experience rises. All told, the funding UHH secured in the past fiscal year (July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003) created 337 new positions, including: 67 regular positions, 106 student positions and 164 temporary positions. UHH also spent $12 million dollars of the grant money on local purchases during that time period. "We are one of the only growth industries here," says Tseng.
None of this is to say that the UH's efforts to garner outside monies have not come without some controversies. Critics have attacked UH President Evan Dobelle for what they say is a slow pace of fundraising toward the $150 million from non-state sources he promised for a cancer center and for remodeling the old medical school building. UH Marketing Director Phil Kinnicutt says, "President Dobelle and the (UH) Foundation have a plan and are confident the long-range fund-raising goals will be met."
The research numbers themselves - in particular, the $324 million in extramural funding raised in fiscal 2003 - are hard to dispute.
With the UH on a torrid pace for the coming year, as well, Dobelle and his team will likely shatter the total grant record again, perhaps even eclipsing the $400-million mark. Says Dobelle, "People are beginning to see the potential of the university. They see the NASA grants and the Med School going up in Kakaako. That's important because a lot of the influential people in Hawaii, in business and the professions, did not go to the university. They may have gone to high school here, but their alma mater is not UH, so we have to teach them how vital a truly strong university is to the future of Hawaii."
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