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Good news in JEDC's 2011 economic report

Posted: September 25, 2011 - 12:12am  |  Updated: September 26, 2011 - 7:42pm

The Southeast’s economy is getting back on track, according to a newly-released report.

The Juneau Economic Development Council releases its 2011 economic indicators report today, available online (www.jedc.org) or at the office at 612 West Willoughby. This is the annual comprehensive statistical report covering demographic and industry factors across the board for Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst and Program Officer Meilani Schijvens say the report’s key objective is to help inform Juneau’s political and business community. The report’s job is to lay out a path and indicate what lies ahead to help readers make better informed decisions.

Holst said this is the agency’s most comprehensive report to date.

The report points to an improving Southeast economy. The report states most factors, such as total employment, payroll, school and college enrollment, are all up.

Holst said that while some of these numbers from 2010 aren’t enough to make up for 2009 losses, it’s a good start toward bringing up the local economy.

For example, the employment rate grew by 2.3 percent, helping reduce but not eliminate the previous year’s loss of 3.5 percent. Total payroll went up 4.8 percent.

Unemployment has remained well below state and national averages.

The business numbers cover all sorts of industries like mining, seafood, government and health care, among others. Most show growth, with some outliers in the visitor populations. There was a 14 percent drop in cruise ship passengers over 2009, and an 18 percent drop from the peak in 2008. Holst said the McDowell Group is projecting the 2011 numbers will show an increase of less than 1 percent.

However, the Juneau Convention and Convention and Visitors Bureau is predicting the 2012 passengers will show a 5 percent rise in cruise passengers.

Holst said profitability for cruise ships is increasing, which could lead to additional berths in the future.

Other visitation methods are doing well, with Alaska Airlines passenger numbers going up 3.9 percent in 2010 with a projected rise of another 3 percent for the first half of 2011. Other air service passengers increased 17.5 percent. Holst said Air Excursions’ scheduled services account for a lot of this increase.

Juneau’s population has gone up slightly. Within that is a large rise in people 60 or older. Holst and Schijvens said the senior population has doubled over the last decade and will continue to do so. They said the Alaska Department of Labor predicts one out of five Juneau residents will be over 60 by 2024.

Juneau’s 20-somethings grew 17 percent during those same 10 years while ages 35-39 showed the biggest decline at 27 percent.

Juneau’s Native population has also increased.

Holst said that Juneau’s overall population has remained relatively stagnant over the years while many other Southeast communities have declined. He said the diminishing forest products industry is a driving force behind this.

Another bright spot the report states is that state and federal government each grew by about 1 percent while tribal and local government grew by 4 percent. The significance is that this marks the first time since 2003 there were no losses in state or federal jobs. Schijvens said 42 percent of the Juneau jobs are related to government.

Mining jobs have increased 30 percent between 2009 and 2010, with the Kensington playing a big role. Payroll went up 34 percent during that time.

Mining employment has also taken a large leap of 84 percent since 2003.

Seafood showed a trend of less being more. Total pounds for all species caught in Southeast decreased slightly over 2009, yet the price increases showed the ex-vessel value going up by almost 25 percent. Each species value and poundage is itemized in the report.

Holst said the seafood industry is sustainable here and more value can be added to those products.

Juneau is also shown to be the healthiest community in the state, according to statistics from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

One area where Juneau shows need for improvement is in housing vacancy rates. The overall rental vacancy rate was 3.2 percent and homeowner rates were only 1.4 percent. It needs to increase to at least 5 percent to be considered a healthy housing market.

Holst said that Juneau needs about 360 more housing units to meet this demand.

Average rent in Juneau also went up 6.6 percent.

“Everyone in Juneau is aware that affordable housing in our community is an issue,” said Holst.

Many more demographics are available. The information comes from a multitude of sources, including the Department of Education and Early Development, the Association for Education of Young Children, University of Alaska, Alaska Marine Highway System, Juneau International Airport, Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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