Thirty Meter Telescope

Astronomy's next generation observatory.


Site Information: Preliminary Economic Impact Analysis

Preliminary Estimates

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) would provide long-term potential employment on the island for astronomers, a wide range of engineers and engineering technicians (mechanical, electrical, and optical), software and information technology engineers, staff to maintain and direct equipment at the observatory, scientific support, public outreach, and management and administrative personnel, including cultural and education outreach specialists.

The current estimate for observatory operations anticipates the need for 140 full-time employees. In addition to the direct employment through these jobs, the project would result in the creation of additional employment opportunities by contracting for work and services with local companies for a variety of services ranging from precision machine shop work to website design.

The project would also generate direct revenues associated with payments for electricity, communication infrastructure, and local and state taxes. The annual labor budget for the Project is estimated at approximately $13 million, with a non-labor budget of about $12.8 million per year, for a total annual operating cost of $25.8 million, contributing to the state and local economies.

In addition, TMT plans to locate its Instrument Development Office in Hawai‘i, which would manage and coordinate the construction of new instruments worth $20 million per year. This would offer additional employment opportunities and experience with on-going astronomical development projects. Those employed by the project and their facilities would purchase local goods and services and pay local and state taxes, further contributing to the socioeconomic welfare of the island community and the state.

The project would substantially enhance the current socioeconomic benefits of the established observatories on Mauna Kea. The project would provide access to UH scientists and researchers through a guaranteed fraction of the observing time. The TMT Observatory would allow the UH system to enhance its astronomy program and thereby retain its substantial role in the nation’s astronomy program. As the TMT Observatory would be the most powerful ground-based observatory on Earth, it is anticipated that it would generate interest and could lead to increased tourism related to the observatories and astronomy. Additional visitors would generate additional revenue for local and state economies, and in turn, additional local employment.

Workforce Development

TMT is committed to partner with UH Hilo, Hawai‘i Community College (HawCC), and the Department of Education (DOE) to help develop, implement, and sustain a comprehensive, proactive, results-oriented Workforce Pipeline Program that would lead to a highly qualified pool of local workers who could be considered for hiring into all job classes and salary levels.

Special emphasis will be given to those programs aimed at preparing local residents for science, engineering, and technical positions commanding higher wages. Key elements of the planned pipeline program include:

  • Initiation of a TMT workforce committee including members from UH Hilo, HawCC, DOE, and Hawai‘i Island workforce development groups.
  • Identification of specific TMT job requirements that UH Hilo, HawCC, and DOE can use to create education and training programs.
  • TMT support of the education and training programs, including at least 4 internships per semester, apprenticeships, and at least 10 summer jobs for students.
  • Creation of a partnership between UH Hilo and TMT partner organizations, such as Caltech, the UC system, and Canadian universities to attract and develop top talent. This would include internships, degree programs, and student exchanges.
  • Support of and active participation in on-going efforts to strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Hawai‘i Island K-12 schools and informal
    learning organizations. Examples would be the Science and Engineering Fair, FIRST robotics competitions, and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i.

A dedicated TMT Workforce Pipeline Program manager would coordinate this effort. The program would be focused on long term investments to strengthen the current STEM skills infrastructure at UH Hilo, HawCC, and Big Island K-12 education organizations serving lower income and first-generation college attending populations. One example could be the development of an engineering school at UH Hilo. Another could be the development or support of programs at HawCC that would provided well-qualified mechanical and electrical technicians.

The scope of these investments will include strengthening language and culture programs and their integration with science and engineering to broaden the appeal of STEM disciplines to first time college attendee families while earning and retaining community support. In addition to the Workforce Pipeline Program effort discussed above, the following measures would be implemented by the Project to ensure that the economic benefit potential for the community and the State is realized:

  • To the greatest extent feasible, employment opportunities would be filled locally.
  • At least two full-time positions would be established for community outreach.
  • A mentoring program for children would be developed to provide support for those interested in astronomy, technology, engineering, and math during the entire elementary
    school-to-university graduate school educational path, with an ultimate goal of strengthening STEM skills throughout Hawai‘i Island.
  • Scholarship programs for students interested in careers in astronomy, engineering, science, and technology would be established.

Ongoing Impact

The mitigation measures proposed would increase the Project’s benefit to the island community and the State. Beyond these important collateral employment and economic impacts, increased STEM capacity of the K-16 educational institutions associated with the Workforce Pipeline Program, the Project would provide Hawai‘i Island with a magnet of educational excellence that could form the basis for technology-based, innovation driven job-producing activities around complementary activities in energy, agriculture, and information technologies and scientific research and support. The skills and expertise developed for a large modern observatory like TMT are readily applicable to many areas of technology-based industries and a wide range of additional employment opportunities could be developed on Hawai‘i Island.

Put together, the Workforce Pipeline Program and mitigation measures would help to maximize the number of local residents qualified for all level of Project jobs or other high tech projects on Hawai‘i Island.