BY PAT FORGEY
New state population estimates show Juneau adding more than 1,000 residents in the last year, doubling its growth for the entire previous decade.
All of Southeast saw growth at above the statewide average of 1.7 percent, according to new estimates released by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section.
Communities around Southeast, many of which have been battling population loss for a decade or more, are welcoming the year’s turnaround, but local officials can’t always explain it.
Hydaburg, on Prince of Wales Island in southern Southeast, was the region’s fastest growing city of any size, adding 8 percent to its population and bringing it up above 400 at 406, the department said.
City Administrator Adrian LeCornu said he welcomed the surprise change, but didn’t know what caused it other than Hydaburg being an attractive place to live.
“A lot of people think of Hydaburg as their ultimate home, but they go to Anchorage, Seattle, Juneau, Ketchikan or Sitka for jobs, and they come back occasionally,” he said.
That may mean they’re absorbed into the community with little notice, he said.
“It’s really hard to track who comes in and out of town every year,” he said.
Sometimes, the change can come from family dynamics.
“There’s a couple of teachers who moved to town and they had fairly good-sized families, so there’s that,” LeCornu said.
Also growing rapidly was another Prince of Wales community, Thorne Bay, following years of decline as the timber industry faded.
The city last year added 5.4 percent, reversing the declines of the past.
Thorne Bay City Administrator Wayne Benner said they’d noticed the new people even before they were notified by the state of the official population estimates.
“Looking out the window, there’s a lot of people around right now,” he said.
Fortunately, many of the newcomers have come with families.
“We’ve got a real push to encouraging hiring of people with kids, so they can help our school out, he said.
Benner said he was encouraged so see the new population numbers after the years of losses, and said he hoped that city efforts such as trying to be friendly to visitors would play a role in that continuing.
The former logging camp now has seven fishing lodges, and an Allen Marine tour boat out of Sitka has recently begun calling in Thorne Bay, he said.
“The business at the market has really picked up and businesses are staying open a few hours longer,” but Benner said he wasn’t entirely sure what was driving the new activity.
The town has had some new retirees that used to work there, such as for the Forest Service, which seems to have contributed, he said.
“I wish I could put my finger on it,” he said.
Other Prince of Wales communities, such as Klawock and Port Protection have also grown rapidly, which is also a change from years of decline, but communities on the island saw little change.
Statewide, there were some unusual changes.
Over the last decade, Juneau has struggled to hold steady and population was lost elsewhere in Southeast.
Last year, however, Anchorage grew less than the state as a whole, and Juneau and Southeast exceeded it.
Other communities, however remained stagnant, with Hoonah, Elfin Cove and Yakutat all struggling just to hold residents.
While Juneau grew slowly in the last decade, adding 564 residents, it added 1,015 in the last year alone. That was almost a tenth of the Alaska’s 11,959 new residents during the year.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.