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Economic growth predicted for Alaska, Southeast

Posted: January 5, 2012 - 12:08am

Alaska’s economy will keep powering forward this year, according to a state Department of Labor & Workforce Development forecast released Wednesday.

Even while the nation has been mired in a recession and its aftermath over the last several years, Alaska has mostly been adding jobs.

It will continue to do so again this year, with a projected increase of 1.2 percent, the state economists said. Southeast will also gain, but at 0.4 percent growth will lag the state.

Over the last 10 years, Alaska has gained jobs in every year except 2009, when it had a loss of 0.4 percent. That was a loss, the economists said, that was “11 times milder” than for the U.S. as a whole.

Strengthening Alaska’s economy in recent years was oil and federal spending, both of which are expected to continue through the year, the forecast said.

Other key Alaska industries did well for reasons that appeared to be tied to demand for their products, such as minerals and fish.

“Mining jobs, though still relatively few compared to oil industry jobs, grew steadily during the recession,” the economists said.

Tourism suffered during the recession, but improved noticeably in 2011, with smaller improvements expected again this year.

Southeast regional economist Mali Abrahamson credited new government jobs in state and local agencies with Southeast’s growth in 2011 and the projected gain in 2012.

Those jobs were not just in Juneau, but also in Sitka and Ketchikan, she said.

Abrahamson also warned of economic uncertainty ahead as aging workers retire and may not be replaced. The population as a whole in Southeast is also seeing its median age rise.

Southeast populations have also declined slightly, about 2 percent over the last decade, with losses of 10 percent or more in the City and Borough of Yakutat and the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area, Petersburg and Prince of Wales. Those losses overwhelm tiny gains in Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

Health care is projected to continue to provide new jobs, with health care firms among the largest employers in most Southeast towns, Abrahamson said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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