UH report finds astronomy in Hawaiʻi had $221 million economic impact in 2019
Astronomy in Hawaiʻi supports employment of 1,313 residents and had a total economic impact of $221 million on the state in 2019, according to a University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO) update.
In Maui County, astronomy generated $31 million and supported employment of 176 people.
Statewide, astronomy generated $110 million in direct expenditures: purchases from local businesses, salaries and wages, and spending by students and visiting researchers. The total economic impact of $221 million, which also accounts for indirect and induced impacts, is nearly as much as farming statewide.
“The numbers are not surprising as they build off the 2012 UHERO report, but the economic impact is just one part of the story,” said Greg Chun, executive director of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship. “That kind of impact only occurs because people’s lives are affected in real ways.
“Astronomy provides educational and employment opportunities to the people of Hawaiʻi, supports hundreds of Hawaiʻi families and is one of the few established economic sectors not related to tourism or the military. And its greatest benefits are on Hawaiʻi Island.”
The UHERO update found the total economic impact from astronomy on Hawaiʻi Island in 2019 was $102 million (46% of the statewide astronomy impact). It sustained 611 jobs (46% of statewide astronomy related employment).
“This is an important snapshot of the benefits astronomy provides our communities, particularly through the creation of many high-tech jobs,” said UH Institute for Astronomy Director Doug Simons, who has worked in astronomy on Hawaiʻi Island since 1990 including as the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope executive director (2012–21) and Gemini Observatory director (2006–11).
“It’s a sustainable sector with career pathways that our local residents including Native Hawaiians have available,” Simons said. “Employment opportunities in astronomy include engineers, technicians, administrators, outreach specialists and many more. Most of these jobs are held by Hawaiʻi residents at the time of hire, with many born and raised in Hawaiʻi.”
Statewide, astronomy activities generated $68 million in labor income and $10 million in state taxes.
The full UHERO report on the economic impact of astronomy is expected to be completed by midyear and will also address how astronomy is embedded in local communities in Hawaiʻi, which is unique compared to many high-tech sectors, and the ripple effect of public-funded research.
Astronomy is just one small part of the total economic impact the UH 10-campus system has on the state. According to a 2021 UHERO report that looked at fiscal year 2020, Hawaiʻi’s public higher education system had a $3.6 billion impact on the state economy and supported more than 22,500 jobs.