Alaska editorial: Growth on horizon

The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:


Ketchikan has what it takes to grow industrially during the next decade.

The largest industrial growth in Alaska is expected to be in health care, according to Alaska Economic Trends. Health care and social assistance lead all other projected industrial growth at 31 percent, followed by mining at 19 percent.

Social assistance includes child day care, vocational rehabilitation and nonmedical home care; the latter reflects the greater number of Alaskans who will be 65 and over. That age group is expected to increase by 89 percent to nearly 105,000 Alaskans, Economic Trends statistics show.

The state anticipates 5,860 new jobs in ambulatory health care, which includes practitioners, outpatient care centers and home health services, and predicts 3,600 new jobs in hospitals and 2,400 in social assistance. The demand for elderly housing also will increase. These ambulatory numbers represent 11,860 out of 38,749 jobs expected throughout all industries operating in Alaska.

The Economic Trends cites the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, the Pogo Mine in the Interior, the Red Dog Mine in the Northwest, the Greens Creek mine in Juneau and the Livengood Gold and Donlin Creek projects. But the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth elements site 40 miles southwest of Ketchikan and the Niblack copper and zinc site 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan are developing, too.

The oil and gas industries are expected to grow, but at less than half of other industries. Their growth is attributed to the labor-intensive methods necessary in the latter stages of oil fields’ life cycles.

Additionally, companies are likely to explore and produce in areas they might have viewed in recent years as marginal. High oil prices make those fields more likely to be profitable.

Construction is expected to add 1,600 jobs and retail, another 4,000. State-funded capital projects are key to growth in construction. Retailers selling essentials weathered the recession better than many, and after slight job losses are expected to regain their pre-recession jobs and gain another 943.

Employment in private and public education is expected to increase by nearly 3,600 jobs; 70 percent of those jobs will be in elementary and secondary schools. But 30 percent will include the University of Alaska and similar institutions; higher demand for well-trained heath care employees will drive, in part, education’s growth.

Government growth is expected to be slow, and in the case of the feds, it is expected to drop 2.7 percent.

In tandem with growth of the health care industry, 47 of the 50 highest-growth occupations are health care related.

Plus, while the aging population increases the demand on health care, creating new jobs, another 96,000 jobs will become available throughout the state as a result of retirement.

These state projections spell potential for Ketchikan.

This community is the health care hub of southern Southeast Alaska. PeaceHealth, a Washington-based company, contracts with the City of Ketchikan to manage Ketchikan Medical Center. It not only operates Ketchikan’s hospital, but it operates a healthcare clinic in Craig and has been assisting Wrangell’s hospital transition through a difficult time.

When Wrangell, Craig and other Alaskans in the area need care beyond what’s available in their communities, they often depend upon Ketchikan’s hospital, privately owned clinics and other health care offices.

These offices treat patients of all ages, but the trend is an increased number of people over 65. Frequently, retirees choose to stay in Ketchikan or move to this community, ensuring the continued growth for the local health care industry.

Not all of the growth will be because of an older population. Ketchikan is the major city closest to both the prospective Niblack and Bokan mine sites. If the United States is to become less dependent on China for its rare earth elements used in much of its technology, then it will welcome mining at Bokan, and at last report, Niblack had been injecting $1.2 million monthly into the Ketchikan economy.

Mining and health care are predicted to create the most job growth. Granted, much of the state’s health care growth will occur in the highest populated areas and mining occurs throughout Alaska. But the community has the infrastructure and the natural resources to be a part of Alaska’s growth.

It’s a matter of taking the necessary steps to move forward — extract metals and minerals and keep up with the rapidly changing health care industry.


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