OIST and the Economics of Okinawa

This column is my last contribution in this series of articles. I will dedicate it to the future of Okinawa and the impact OIST can have for Okinawa’s economy.

So far OIST created jobs that, whether in service, administration, technical support or research, tend to be high-skilled, well-paid and stable. We expect OIST will directly employ 1,000 Okinawans by 2040, making OIST one of the larger local employers. Apart from direct employment at OIST and spin-of companies, having the institute as an economic focal point will be a stimulus for Onna Village and Okinawa more generally. The need for food, clothing, services and entertainment for OIST staff and families will drive prosperity in the village in a long-term, sustainable fashion. With the intellectual capacity of OIST, intellectual property is an inevitable result. We have adopted practices from universities with success in technology transfer to drive this process for researchers, aiming to make OIST an innovation hub for Onna Village, Okinawa and Japan. With support from the Okinawa Prefectural Government and private donations, OIST also runs a start-up program for entrepreneurs from around the world who can benefit from the outstanding resources and research expertise at OIST. Candidates from anywhere in the world can apply to develop their projects in the OIST incubation center. From these measures, we expect the number of start-ups to grow, eventually reaching several per year.

We work with Onna Village and industry partners to develop the land north of our campus. This “OIST Innovation Park,” will provide an exhilarating and high-tech home to the breakthrough innovation and enterprise that flows from world-leading basic research. More than just a commercial zone, the OIST Innovation Park will inspire and entertain, promoting innovation and supporting work, life, and play. Start-up businesses will develop within easy reach of sustainable, environmentally advanced homes, linked by future modes of smart, energy-efficient transportation, alongside retail, recreation and community services, eateries, a center for lifelong learning, and hopefully a school.

Here, we explore a university-led venture capital fund with the aim of achieving self-sustaining investment income. In time, we expect an ecosystem of start-ups and technology companies to bring vibrancy and information-sharing to the region. Such an environment will attract multi-national tech companies to share the growing workspace and skilled community of OIST and Onna Village.

We expect Onna Village will continue to derive its income largely from tourism, thus OIST represents an opportunity to diversify the village’s economy and set it apart from other coastal towns, becoming a major contributor to Okinawan’s future not just as a world-class intellectual center in research and education but also as a major contributor to Okinawa’s economic future. My hope is that all Okinawans will be as proud as I am for having such an organization that can help to steer us into a happy, healthy and prosperous future.

By Dr. Peter Gruss, President/CEO, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)

The Japanese translation of this article was published on December 21, 2019 under the title "OISTと沖縄経済" in the "南風" (Ha'e) column of the newspaper "Ryukyu Shimpo."

See the full list of the president's contributions to "Ha'e" (Japanese).