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Thirty Meter Telescope could boost Hawaii Island's economy

The Thirty Meter Telescope, the world’s most advanced eye on the stars, should revive Hawaii Island’s construction industry and provide a high-tech boost to the local economy

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Mauna Kea: What’s It Worth to Local economy

There are 12 telescope facilities in full operation on Mauna Kea, including the two Keck facilities. The University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy provided this look at their economic impact.

Facility Capital Cost ($ million)* Operating cost a year ($ million) Hawaii Island-based staff First year of operation
UH 2.2-meter Telescope $5 $1.5 7 1970
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope $30 $7.0 45 1979
NASA Infrared Telescope Facility $10 $4.3 19 1979
United Kingdom Infrared Telescope $5 $2.0 12 1979
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope $32 $5.0 27 1986
Caltech Submillimeter Observatory $10 $2.6 11 1986
VLBA Antenna $7 $0.3 2 1992
W.M. Keck Observatory (Keck I & II) $170 $13.0 130 1992/1996
Subaru Telescope $170 $19.5 96 1999
Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope $92 $13.9 112 1999
Submillimeter Array $80 $5.0 27 2003
Additional Mauna Kea Observatories Support Services Not applicable $1.2 39 1980
Total $611 $75.3 527 -

* Original cost, not adjusted for inflation and not including subsequent capital improvements.

Want an Observatory Job?

Jim Kennedy, the former head of the Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope on Mauna Kea and a member of the Hawaii County Workforce Investment Board, collected these facts for a report on the Mauna Kea observatories. Though the report was prepared in 2010, Kennedy assured Hawaii Business that the projections are still accurate. Here are some of his findings:

More than 80% of the jobs in a typical observatory are not in research fields

Most jobs only require two or four years of college education.

“Observatories prefer local hires whenever possible, but there aren’t enough qualified local applicants.”

– Jim Kennedy, former head of the Gemini Telescope

2007 survey of Hawaii Island observatories’ technical and administrative staff

born and raised on Hawaii Island
living in the state when hired
hired from overseas locations
not born on Hawaii Island


Technology education offers the most employment opportunities

Mechanical & Electronics Jobs
About evenly split between two-year community college and four-year university training programs.
Software Jobs
Usually require four-year university degree
about 20 jobs each
about 57 jobs each
about 16 jobs each
about 47 jobs each


Correction Sept. 16, 2013: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a story to the Big Island Chronicle. The story appeared in the Big Island Weekly.

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