2011 economic numbers rosy for Juneau and Southeast Alaska

Juneau Economic Development Council's Executive Director Brian Holst listens to Program Officer Meilani Schijvens present results from this year's 2011 Juneau and Southeast Economic Indicators report during the Juneau Chamber of Commerce lunheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday.

It’s a great time to be a Juneau economics researcher.

Almost every number a Juneau business or resident could wish to go up went up between 2010 and 2011 — employment, wages, health. Even the average age of Juneau residents went up.

The Juneau Economic Development Council presented Juneau’s economic indicators to a packed Chamber of Commerce meeting Thursday at the Moose Lodge.

“An opportunity for (the Juneau Economic Development Council) to share with the community information about what our economy looks like,” JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said.

Holst said Juneau benefits from a strong economic base of state and federal government along with strong industries in mining, seafood and tourism.

Basically the story is that 2010, relative to 2009, was certainly good for Juneau. Population is up, employment is up, payroll is up, unemployment is down, school enrollment is up, housing starts are up and home values are increasing. That is rosy.

“I’ve been accused of being too optimistic,” Holst said. However, he reminded the Chamber that “as good as the numbers for 2010 turned out to be they did not make up for losses in 2009. We have plenty of challenges”

Overall employment increased by 404 jobs from 2009 to 2010, or 2.3 percent to about 18,000 jobs. Average payroll increased by $36 million, a 4.8 percent increase over the same time period.

The heart of Juneau’s economy is government, Meilani Schijvens, JEDC Program Officer said. State, local, tribal and federal government accounts for about 7,500 jobs in Juneau. Government workers in Juneau earned $400 million in 2010, half of all Juneau wages. The U.S. Coast Guard alone employs more than 300 workers in Juneau.

Juneau also saw a growth of 89 local government and tribal jobs. Of Juneau’s total population in 2010 of 31,275, 19.2 percent were Native, an increase of about 1,000 over the year 2000.

Tourism was the largest private sector employer in Juneau with 2,400 annual jobs in 2010. There are about 1,400 jobs in private and public health care, with $66 million in wages. Construction workers captured another seven percent.

Mining showed the largest industry growth in Juneau, increasing 26 percent to capture 106 new jobs — predominantly due to Kensington Mine opening last year — and an increase in wages by $12 million. Mining now employs more than 500 people in Juneau and miners earn twice the average wage of Juneau workers.

Even though national unemployment has remained near 9.1 percent, Juneau unemployment averaged a much lower 5.8 percent of Juneau’s 31,275 residents in 2010.

The exceptions were tourism-based jobs, arts entertainment and retail jobs which declined in 2010. The economic recession continues to take a toll on tourism. Cruise line traffic was down 14 percent.

Juneau residents were healthier and better educated in 2010 than in 2009.

Though the population of Juneau is aging — by 2024 it is estimated 20 percent of Juneau residents will be 65 years old or older — Juneau is rated as the healthiest community in the state of Alaska.

School district and University of Alaska Southeast enrollment was up in 2010. However forecasts predict declines in enrollment over time.

And there are more of us too. Juneau added about 300 residents from 2009 to 2010, though it is short on people in the 30- to 39-year-old age category.

However, other Southeast communities have faced steep declines in population numbers. Kake, Klukwan and Pelican all lost more than 20 percent of their populations between 2000 and 2010.

Housing in Juneau costs 66 percent more to live in than the average U.S. community. In 2011 the price of a single family home is back up to the height of the market, or about $321,000.

“Our housing bubble is healthy and strong,” Schijvens said. Juneau’s vacancy rate is 3.2 percent, compared to more than 9 percent for the rest of the country.

Many of the key factors are showing a reversal of the downtrend from the beginning of the economic recession that the nation went through, said Lance Stevens, regional vice president of Alaska USA Credit Union. Stevens, who attended JEDC’s presentation at the Chamber, said local business leaders should act on the encouraging news.

“Keeping in mind that we haven’t fully recovered as a community, we are on the road to recovery,” Stevens said. “We need to remind ourselves in the era of negativity that there are some positive points in our community that we need to leverage. As business leaders we have to find those and utilize them to help us make good business decisions for the future.”

Stevens said the positive economic indicators signaled to some types of businesses that it may be time to expand and hire new employees, but cautioned that’s not an across-the-board statement.

He gives as an example tourism-based retail compared to retail geared toward mining and health care industries

Retail that relies on seasonal cruise ships and visitors is at the bottom of the recovery trend.

“They’re still coming out of their trough,” Stevens said.

This type of retail is forecast to recover starting in 2012, he said. However, retail related to mining and health care industry growth and year-round permanent industry can provide high income, stable jobs now, he said.

“That’s your grounded retail in the community, not your tourism-based retail.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.


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