High-tech, agriculture are Westside’s growth industries

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of examinations of current and projected economic conditions for various regions on the island.

While tourism, retail companies and the hotel/vacation rental industries are significant in stimulating several regions of Kaua‘i’s economy, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) and agricultural markets are the economic leaders on the Westside.

“There are no magic crops,” said Roy Oyama, president of the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau Inc. “We have to find crops that can be productive and yield the best prices.”

While coffee and corn are two of the biggest crops on the Westside, Oyama believes that certain crops, specifically tropical fruits, can be beneficial to the island.

Oyama cited papaya, lychee, rambutan and longan as four fruits that he feels should become important crops on Kaua‘i. He also stated that grape crops could also become important in producing wine.

Despite some success in the agriculture industry here on the island, Oyama still has concerns about its future.

“One of the biggest problems is that we no longer can compete with the world the way we did many years ago,” he said. “Other places have done more research, and have more resources than we do.”

Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. is one of the leaders in soybean and corn-seed development and research.

The company, which has operations at Waimea, Kekaha, Koloa and areas in between, specializes in new technologies to help yield more productive and efficient crops.

Pioneer uses the process of plant biotechnology to produce a “useful and beneficial” plant.

The process involves taking a specific gene from one plant and “moving it” to another plant.

Over time, the process has helped certain crops become herbicide tolerant as well as pest and virus resistant.

The role of PMRF

Since its inception in 1957, the Pacific Missile Range Facility has been a major factor on the western portion of Kaua‘i, as well as the entire island itself.

According to Pacific Business News, PMRF is the No.1 employer on the island.

“We started with seven people way back in 1957, and now we have 800 people employed here,” said PMRF Marketing Director Stewart Burley, who has been at PMRF for over 46 years. “We will probably get another 200 people in here in the next four years.” Burley is in charge of strategic business planning at the facility.

According to Burley, three significant factors have contributed to PMRF’s important role with Kaua‘i’s economy.

One huge factor seems to be programs that PMRF civilian and military employees have created. One of the newest in the works is the Maritime Directed Energy Test Center (MDETC) program, which could be implemented in 2006, said Burley.

Currently, the facility is going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process before pushing forward with the directed-energy plan. According to Burley, the MDETC, as well as other programs, has been crucial to the economy because it has brought in more companies as well as workers.

Over the past four years, the facility has held four missile-test events. Each has generated approximately $3.5 million.

“I know we are going to get bigger,” Burley said. “We are going to have new technology, and will require more personnel to work in that technology.”

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