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Back Opinion Are we ready for a Guam Techno Foundation?

Are we ready for a Guam Techno Foundation?

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LAST week, I had the pleasure of introducing my good friend from Japan, Mr. Koichiro Ichikawa, to Gov. Calvo’s special assistant for Social and Economic Affairs, Henry J. Taitano. If any of you have been following this column carefully, you might remember that Ichikawa-san is the owner of a firm which makes about 30 percent of the world’s silicon wafer polishing machines, and the vice-chairman of the Nagano Prefecture Employers Association. He is also the chairman of a group called the Nagano Techno Foundation ... and therein lies a tale.

Actually, Mr. and Mrs. Ichikawa had just come to Guam this time to visit my wife and I, and to play a round of golf at the lovely Mangilao Golf Course. Knowing how hard Henry is working to attract more Japanese investment to Guam, however, I thought it would be a real shame if he didn’t have the chance to meet Ichikawa-san this time, and so a visit was arranged.

We started out talking about how Guam might be able to expand its investment efforts beyond the large cities and major corporations, and about the University of Guam’s plan to create a School of Engineering in the near future. All very interesting and important, but when the conversation turned to the Nagano Techno Foundation, we could see Henry’s eyes light up.

So just what is the Nagano Techno Foundation, and why did it have Henry so excited?

Founded in 2001, Nagano Techno is a nonprofit consortium that brings together some 250 high-tech companies of all sizes based in Nagano Prefecture, along with Shinshu University (a national university, noted for its school of engineering), other technical colleges and schools in the region, and the prefectural government. Its purpose is, as stated in its brochure: “To contribute to the revitalization and independence of Nagano Prefecture’s regional economy by promoting innovation-based industrial upgrading and the creation of new industries while leveraging Nagano’s local industrial resources.”

Besides serving as an excellent networking forum for its members, the main activity of the foundation is to encourage the development and commercialization of new technologies, primarily through private industry and academic partnerships. How this works in practice is that the foundation helps to bring together a company (or companies) working in a particular field (such as nanotechnology, fuel cells, desktop factory technology, etc.) with an idea for a new technology they would like to develop, with a professor at Shinshu University who has particular expertise in that area. The professor then helps to develop the basic technology, and once the research has advanced to a certain point, the company takes over and uses it as the basis for commercial products. Funding for the joint research comes from the company, and also from grants or seed money provided by the national and prefectural governments, and the Nagano Techno Foundation.

As part of the “Imagine Guam” initiative Gov. Calvo presented during his State of the Island address, Henry and other of the governor’s senior advisers are now thinking about exactly the issues the Nagano Techno Foundation was created to address. That is, how to bring together, in a systematic way, the resources of business, government and academia to create new industries, technologies and products, based on the unique characteristics of Guam.

A great idea, and one that is working very well in Japan ... but are we ready to actually take the bull by the horns and put something like this together here on Guam? Another one of the governor’s advisers who joined the meeting was candid enough to admit that Guam “is probably 20 years behind where we should be on this.” Although an effort is underway to create one, UOG still doesn’t have a School of Engineering. There is, as yet, practically no manufacturing to speak of on the island, especially of anything that could be considered high-tech. Many of our best and brightest young people go off to universities on the mainland and never come back. And if we are honest, we would have to admit that the post colonial oligarchic structure of Guam’s island society is anything but conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation.

But does this mean we can’t do it? Are we too lazy, or argumentative, or greedy, or just plain stuck in our ways to move beyond Guam’s current military/tourism (only) economic model and create something new – something that will be sustainable for generations to come?

Certainly not!

As I see it, just three things are needed: imagination – as Gov. Calvo suggested, we have to imagine the kind of island we would like to have in 20 or 30 years ... and how to create it; cooperation – a basic transformation of the island demands that we work together, even if it means that our group, faction or family has to give up some of its current entitlements; and persistence – there have been lots of commissions, studies and initiatives that went nowhere. What we need to do is (as the Nike commercial says), “Just do it” ... and keep doing it!

A brief note to our readers – Gov. Calvo has asked us to “imagine Guam,” so go for it! Please do register (or re-register) on our new website, post a comment, and let us know what you think about Guam’s future ... and how we can get there

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