Special to KPUA.net by H.I.E.D.B
At NELHA, Itšs About More Than The Water
Hawaii Island Economic Development Board is a private non-profit organization whose mission is, "To provide and promote private-sector support and expertise for balanced economic growth in Hawaii County, in partnership with federal, state, county and private resources."
Two things are bountiful here on Hawaii Island, sunshine and seawater. With those commodities in abundance, the government agency, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) works diligently to grow industries for the 21st century that will bring economic development and diversity to the island and our state.
A brief history is important in understanding NELHAšs evolution. In 1974, the Hawaii State Legislature created the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii or NELH at Keahole Point. NELH was mandated to provide support facilities for research on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) process and related technologies. Various processes of that research led to new discoveries relating to use of cold deep seawater and warm surface water.
In 1984, the legislature added commercialization to NELHšs mandate, thus initiating an important role for the agency as a venue for business startups. In 1990, the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology (HOST) Park and NELH were melded to form NELHA as an attached agency of the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism. Today, NELHA is home to approximately 30 enterprises generating $40 million each year in economic impact (calculated using standard economic multipliers). More than 200 people are employed by NELHA and its tenants in a variety of positions ranging from secretaries to research scientists. NELHA has grown from being 100% state-supported through general funds to achieving 60% self-sufficiency in 2002 through collection of ground rents and fees for services from tenants.
Among many NELHA success stories during years of growth from research support facility to current status as a business development park is Big Island Abalone Corporation (BIAC). BIAC successfully transitioned from research project to commercial status in 2000 with the launching of fresh abalone product for the gourmet seafood market. Company sales increased from $160,000 in 2001 to $1 million in 2002 when they were awarded then Governor Ben Cayetanošs New Exporter of the Year Award. BIAC is forecasting $3 million in exports for 2003. While still considered a "small business," BIAC nonetheless is currently the largest abalone farm in the United States. In 2002, they accounted for 26% of the total U.S. abalone export with 22 tons of live abalone shipped to Japan. In 2003, this market share will increase to 60%.
Other businesses being nurtured at NELHAšs environ include companies producing microalgae-based nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products, and companies producing bottled water and mineral salts developed from deep seawater. More than a dozen aquaculture companies have responded to the growing decimation of the worldšs natural fisheries due to habitat destruction and overfishing by culturing high quality, high value marine plants and animals for the global seafood industry using NELHAšs pristine seawater supplies. Another area with tremendous commercial potential is the use of cold deep seawater in integrated systems for air conditioning, industrial cooling, agriculture, and aquaculture applications to enhance economic development in coastal communities. NELHA is also bringing new attention to energy industries with the construction of a new facility dedicated to hosting energy research projects with commercial potential.
Why would a researcher or start-up business want to locate to a lava desert on an island in the middle of the Pacific? The reasons are compelling. The rate of natural sunrays, called insolation, at the NELHA location is ranked above any other U.S. coastline. Keahole Pointšs steep offshore bathymetry (ocean depth) creates easy access to deep water, essential for providing the unique cold and warm seawater supply available to all NELHA tenants. NELHAšs convenient proximity to Kona International Airport means fresh products ranging from abalone to lobsters to limu can be harvested, packed and shipped to Asian markets and U.S. markets in just hours. In addition, the growing NELHA scientific and business community is a virtual hotbed of resourcefulness, innovation and entrepreneurial enterprise that continues to attract like-minded individuals.
NELHAšs Executive Director, Jeff Smith points out all this economic development is vital yet must contantaly be balances with NELHAšs role as steward of the environment at Keahole. "While creating new jobs and new diverse industries for Hawaii, we will not do that at the expense of our ocean and our land," Smith says.
Curious to learn more about NELHAšs activities? The Friends of NELHA provides outreach presentations for a nominal fee twice a week. Call 329-7341 to make reservations.
See previous Focus On The Economy Features by clicking on the links below:
Reconfiguring Government...hard questions with no easy answers
Recycling Center Making "Trashformation" a reality
Island Businesses Garner Recognition With Awards
Upscale Resort Residential Developments Economic Tax Boom To County
Hawaii Island Crossroads a Plus for Meetings Market
Drive Guide Encourages Sustainable Communities
PGA program could be right on par for Hawaii Island
Now More Than Ever, Buy Local!
FEDEX direct flight a boost for Big Island Ag
Primates Primed for Primadome