Anchorage to see job losses in 2009

Businesses optimistic that overall economy will remain steady

Posted: Monday, February 09, 2009

There will be minor jobs losses this year, but Anchorage's economy overall is on a steady footing compared to the rest of the nation. Local business leaders are cautiously optimistic, too.

That's the assessment of the most recent economic forecast for the state's largest city, this one prepared by Anchorage Economic Development Corp. Also, confidence in the local economy is measured in a new Anchorage Business Leader Confidence Index Survey of local firms done by consulting firm McDowell Group for AEDC.

"We're flat, in terms of economic growth, but that's good compared to what's happening elsewhere," AEDC President Bill Popp said at the organization's annual economic forecast luncheon held Jan. 29.

On the positive side, the city's housing market is stable, its banks are strong and have money to lend, and there are more people employed than ever before," Popp said.

Anchorage's Acting Mayor Matt Claman had words of caution, however. "We're going to see a slightly reduced number of visitors this year, air and sea shipping are down a little. These are challenges, but our city is moving forward."

One test of confidence in the community will come in April, when Anchorage residents vote on bond proposals that will appear on the municipal election ballot, Claman said.

The business confidence survey shows that business leaders are upbeat. Most surveyed expect moderate increases in gross sales, net profits, employment and their own capital expenditures in 2009, according to the survey.

McDowell Group contacted managers and owners of 103 firms and organizations during December and early January.

AEDC's forecast for the local economy is similar to that of the state Department of Labor, if slightly more bullish. Some industries will show gains, for example health care with an additional 200 jobs, while others will contract, like leisure and hospitality, which is expected to be down 300.

Transportation, which includes both air and marine, is expected to be stable despite the anticipated decline in tourism and slowdown in international air cargo shipments.

Business and professional services, which includes engineering, is expected to be up slightly, as will the big trade sector, which includes retail.

Construction is expected to be down 300 jobs, while oil and gas employment in Anchorage is predicted to remain stable.

Overall, AEDC's expectation is that about 100 jobs will be lost this year. State labor economist Neal Fried put the loss at 200 jobs, but Fried's predictions are otherwise basically in line with those made by AEDC.

While they aren't usually counted in the job numbers, troop levels at Fort Richardson have reached the highest levels since 1988 and will increase further in 2009, AEDC said in its forecast.

In his presentation, Popp said trade and retail employment are still expanding in Anchorage in contrast to the rest of the nation.

"Anchorage's wholesale and retail trade sectors combined added 100 jobs in 2008, an increase of about one half of 1 percent. For 2009, we expect employment to grow by 200 jobs," almost a 1 percent growth, Popp said.

This is based on new retail stores that will open this year, mostly at the new Tikahtnu Commons, which will soon be the state's largest shopping and entertainment complex.

Scheduled openings in 2009 include Kohl's Department Store, Lowe's Home Improvement Center, Best Buy and the Sports Authority. Target is scheduled to open its second Anchorage store in the fall of 2009, Popp said.

The business and professional services sector in Anchorage grew by 300 jobs in 2008, driven mostly by engineering services for the oil and gas and mining industries. Recent declines in commodity prices will slow this sector in 2009, but Popp estimates there will still be another 100 jobs added, mainly because of increased gas pipeline-related work.

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