Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

Ancient Magazine -- The Hawaii High Tech Journal first launched mid-1984 (and Hawaii of the 1980s)

In terms of economic diversification (and high tech development), the first real outreach and promotion program for Hawaii as a site for US multinationals seeking a bridge to Asia-Pacific probably was in 1977 -- when the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce sought to capture US firms to establish regional offices in Honolulu (actually, Wang did open an APAC office later) -- which coincided with the end of the Vietnam conflict (1975) and declining US defense spending and changes with the Big Five.  In 1984 I returned to Hawaii from Massachusetts -- brimming with stories of the then-Rt. 128 high tech boom (I had been with DEC at its Maynard headquarters; there were Data General, Computervision, Raytheon, Wang, Apollo, MITRE, Applicon -- all in New England at that time) -- and I joined a Big Five firm called Castle & Cooke (which was half-Dole, half-Oceanic Properties in land development) -- and headed marketing for the high tech park -- in those days, it was a clearing of pineapple stumps -- at Mililani.  It was an interesting transition from PDP-11/VAX OS product development to a land use permit process of sometimes up to 7 - 9 years to change Ag-1 to BMX or residential zoning from the Land Use Commission, then the City & County.  Lanai was also seen then by Dole to be in ag fresh pine production for a long time in the future (several years ago fresh pine production was halted on Lanai).

I had returned to a Hawaii where the Big Five was in transition -- Dole had moved its headquarters to S.F., Theo H. Davies would diversify into Taco Bell fast food and a Mercedes-Benz dealership, Dillingham would be acquired by Shimizu, and move to the Mainland, Amfac was reeling after a foray with Liberty House department stores into California, and Alexander & Baldwin would focus on Matson/transportation in Hawaii.  (There should be a Shidler Business School thesis on why many Hawaii firms did not do well going outside of Hawaii, except for some projects, like the award-winning Sea Ranch.)  Even Castle & Cooke would be acquired in a year.  Throughout the 1970s were boom times, when downtown businessmen would take long lunches at the Pacific Club and play whist.  The 1980s would see a changed landscape of small businesses, many selling to hotels, restaurants, tourists, and the continuing real estate boom-- until the day the Baghdad bombing started in January 1991 -- which would usher in a near-decade of recession -- until the Internet boom (West Coast) around 1998 - 2002 would spark a tourism (and investment) upswing again.  So in a sense, entrepreneurship was not lacking in Hawaii . . .

And in 1984 two government organizations were launched: the Hawaii High Technology Development Corporation and the Economic Development Corporation of Honolulu -- this was again part of the times, to get economic diversification going in Hawaii.  (The latter group head had seen Honda establish a new car plant in Ohio, and thought there would be  an easy sell for Japanese high tech plants and development offices to open in Hawaii -- after all, Hawaii had many Japanese-speakers and not that far away from Japan).  (The former group head would be instrumental in the Manoa Innovation Center, the Keahole deep-sea pipe, and other initiatives.) 

Interestingly, around this same time the Pacific Telecommunications Council was underway (I would later publish in the PTC journal an essay on the history of wireless in the People's Republic of China and another on wireless in Japan -- and it was a strong local Hawaii technical publication, now defunct), and Hawaiian Telephone was a key leading network player in the mid-Pacific -- one strong strand was to "assist" other underdeveloped island societies from a high-tech Hawaii (such a halcyon vision!), utilizing satellite communications, soon-to-arrive video-conferencing, and education/information programs.

Simultaneously, there were strong interests in US-Japan technological linkages through a new group called PICHTR at that time.  Japanese tourism and investment (the yen would dramatically gain on the dollar in 1984 and many real estate acquistions would occur) flooded into Hawaii, as well.  Square Hawaii, perhaps the top Japanese high tech firm to relocate to Hawaii for "The Final Fantasy" CG movie, would not appear on the Hawaii scene until much later.

As now in Hawaii of 2010 A.D., there was a need in the 1980s to promote exciting UH research, bright talented local engineers, multi-lingual staff, a magnificient East-West fusion culture, beautiful climate, mid-Pacific location -- and hence, we put together a magazine -- Hawaii High Tech Journal -- and there were about six or eight issues in total, with private and legislative funding.  Attached are three magazine covers -- we covered Intelect, sensor research at UH, astronomy on the Big Island, JAIMS, PTC, several high tech conferences of that era, and many other topics.

In 1991 I would depart Hawaii for Tokyo as the new head of the Asia office for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 20 years later, during a move to a new place by the Russian Embassy I came across old copies of the magazine, and it evoked another time, another place -- yet so many things are still the same.

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This is a fantastic historical perspective on technology in Hawaii. While thumbing through the 80s Hawaii High Tech Journal copies you brought to dinner, I was amazed at the similarities between our current efforts and the initiatives 20 years ago - a concentration on renewable energy technology, pushing agriculture technology, the innovation economy as a diversification strategy for Hawaii's economy, etc. I wish we could get the mags in searchable electronic form. It would be beneficial to have a better understanding of what has already been tried, what worked and what didn't.

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