For many, summers in Juneau means hiking, fishing and an incurable headache from the permanent traffic jam downtown. Whether locals like to admit it or not, Juneau thrives because of the seasonal work and visitors it attracts. The city swells in population, not just from tourists, but also from seasonal workers worldwide.
According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, there were 3,600 jobs in the visitor-related industry in July 2013, July being the peak time of the season.
These 3,000 plus seasonal workers lie in the grey-area of locals and tourists. They live here, though temporarily, and actively contribute to the economy, but pack up and leave when the last cruise ship leaves port. But besides just being a long-term tourist, Juneau is the workspace where many make their livelihood.
Nick Millonzi, a veteran and booth representative for M&M tours, has spent six summers in Juneau. Each summer entails working 60-70 hours per week for five months in order to enjoy an extended winter vacation in Hawaii, where he resides in the off-season.
“I work a lot right now, but I get more time off than I have to work in a 12-month span,” said Millonzi. “That’s beautiful. I also make quite a bit of money. In fact, I make more money in five months than a lot of my veteran friends that have since moved on to careers, and they work 12 months a year. Plus, I get to hang out in Hawaii for seven months fishing and doing whatever I want.”
Besides the monetary opportunities, Juneau also offers seasonals the excuse to explore and travel in a way most people outside of the industry don’t get to experience.
“It is a great way to see a place,” said Joe Quintana, a former seasonal worker who now resides in Juneau permanently. “It’s basically a six-month paid vacation to go see somewhere new.”
Many of these people consider themselves more than just a seasonal worker, especially those who return back to Juneau year after year. Eventually, the ties with the community and culture make Juneau feel more like home than a temporary workspace.
Lance Matson, who is currently spending his sixth season in Juneau, described seasonal work as “summer camp for adults,” but with ties and connections to the people and community so close, he now considers it “home.”
“It took a few years to kind of break into the Juneau family,” Matson said. “I have always been downtown and I know so many people downtown now after all these years, it’s kind of my home. I have been here more than anywhere else in the last couple years.”
Seasonal life may be appealing financially, but it takes a certain type of person to be able to move and travel so freely, without the absolute certainty that what you left will be waiting for your return. Seasonal work is a seasonal lifestyle, a lifestyle unconventional to some, but the life for many in Juneau.
“The economy is so strong here with the cruise lines,” Matson said. “It really gives us the opportunity to do a volume of business in such a short period of time that I feel like I couldn’t do anywhere else in the world except in a similar situation.”