Businesses and residents agree, the availability of affordable housing is the top barrier to economic development in Juneau, according to surveys conducted by McDowell Group and Sheinberg Associates.
McDowell Group Owner and President Jim Calvin revealed this and more during a presentation on the Juneau Economic Development Plan at Monday night’s Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting. Data from the past decade — including income, employment rates and more — has been collected and analyzed to build the plan’s framework.
Calvin said there has been “lots of public involvement” and he thinks they’ve “set a really solid foundation.”
Housing topped lists of challenges for the economy and barriers to economic development and household economic well-being in both prompted and unprompted questions posed in surveys to individuals and businesses.
Those who responded also seemed united in identifying keeping the capital in Juneau as a key economic development strategy, recognizing Juneau’s reliance on government for employment. Supporting Juneau’s existing businesses came in second, followed by supporting growth of other industries.
The good news is Juneau’s per capita income is 12 percent higher than the statewide rate and 26 percent higher than national numbers. Still, Juneau’s cost of living is highest of a sampling of six cities, but after adjusting the cost of living comparison to account for median income, Juneau fell to fourth on that list, which included Bellingham and Olympia, Wash., Laramie, Wyo., Flagstaff, Ariz., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Boise, Idaho. Calvin did note that some demographics weren’t faring so well. Juneau’s median income was $78,947 in 2012, but Alaska Native families and women each showed median incomes about a third lower.
Some responses from businesses and individuals online are still being analyzed and refined.
A decade of data
Since 2004, Juneau has seen a per capita income growth at a rate of 1.2 percent, which barely outpaces inflation over the same span, Calvin said.
The report broke down wages by sector, with mining jobs at the top, followed by federal government jobs (excluding non-civilian U.S. Coast Guard).
From a long-term perspective, Juneau has shown 0.5 percent wage and employment growth, but with an overall decline in government jobs — about 200 federal, 75 state and 259 local government jobs.
While the public sector declines, the private sector showed an increase in the long term. Both sectors showed a slight down-tick from 2012 to 2013, but the private sector numbers could be due to a reporting error, Calvin said.
Calvin said Juneau has an “ever-increasing dependence” on non-resident employees — about 38 percent of the private sector workforce, taking with them about $134 million in private sector wages. The number of non-resident workers is up 10 percent over the last decade. Most non-resident workers, whether from Alaska outside of Juneau or outside of Alaska entirely, work in tourism and seafood processing.
Prompted by a question from Assemblyman Loren Jones, Calvin said housing is an issue for non-resident seasonal employees as well as year-round residents.
Calvin also touched on an increasing elderly population, with 10 percent age 65 or older now, and an estimated 20 percent in 2025.
The city’s effective sales tax is not keeping pace with inflation, though property tax is.
For more information, visit juneaueconomicplan.org.
More comprehensive reports on business responses and online responses are forthcoming and Calvin said an important next step is to meet with the assembly to talk about whether to wade deeper into the housing issue or leave it to others to handle, and to come up with metrics, goals and visions.
“We can’t look at every sector, every infrastructure,” Calvin said, adding that they will need help from the assembly to prioritize and identify and evaluate specific strategies.
There will be town meetings in the fall, in September and October, in both downtown Juneau and the Mendenhall Valley. Calvin said they’ll develop a draft plan, meeting in November with the assembly to see how things are shaping up.
Also at the assembly
Kristin Cox, with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, expressed concern for e-cigarettes that burn a liquid nicotine, creating a vapor that is inhaled and exhaled by users. Cox cited studies showing the devices may still be harmful to health despite new technologies. She indicated that advertisements, including on television where cigarette advertisements are not allowed, seem to be marketing toward children. Next Monday, a proposed change to the Juneau Clean Air Ordinance, would add use of e-cigarettes to the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and public places.
Slight changes were proposed to CBJ election code, presented by City Clerk Laurie Sica. Changes would allow voters who may leave town in advance of elections to obtain a ballot earlier than the current 15 days before the election.
Assemblymen Jones and Jesse Kiehl noted the importance of keeping language that indicated a minimum of 15 days to protect voters’ abilities to access a ballot.
Another proposed change would make the window for candidates to withdraw four days after the deadline for filing. Assemblymen Kiehl and Nankervis expressed some concern over the short window. The main goal for the proposed change would allow dissemination of voting information earlier or an earlier print date for ballots and election information.
Another proposed change, along with amendments, allows candidates to fill out a questionnaire for candidate profiles. Stricken from the proposal were questions related to political philosophy, focusing on issues instead. Profiles will be available online only and will not be printed with other election information.
Editor's note: Updated to correct McDowell Group’s Owner and President Jim Calvin's name.