Alaska weathers downturn in jobs better than most states

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2004

FAIRBANKS - Alaska was tied for third place with Florida for job growth last year, according to national employment figures.

The main reason for the strong showing is that Alaska doesn't have high-tech industries that laid off workers during the recent economic downturn like other states in the Lower 48, said Brigitta Windisch-Cole, an economist with the Department of Labor.

Also, Alaska didn't suffer as much as other states after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she said.

Both Alaska and Florida had a 1.5-percent job growth in 2003.

"In essence, we just didn't lose as many jobs as other states did during the recession," she said.

Alaska's ranking fell from first place in 2002 when Alaska posted a 2-percent job growth, Windisch-Cole said. That's because states that depend on tourism, like Florida, have made a comeback from a slowdown of visitor travel following the terrorist attacks, she said.

The news isn't all good, however, as the increase barely covered lost jobs in trade and transportation.

The bright spot is construction. Private-sector work, construction of the new Bassett Army Replacement Hospital and elsewhere on Fort Wainwright, jobs at Eielson Air Force Base and missile defense work at Fort Greely in Delta Junction have added 200 jobs, Windisch-Cole said.

The boom has a downside. With almost every available person working, there's a labor shortage.

One reason is that the construction industry has an aging work force, said Roxanna Horschell, chair of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska. The younger workers haven't been interested in construction jobs, she said.

Another reason for the labor shortage is that construction is booming in the state, and the Interior particularly.

"This year is record-breaking," said Ward Isaac, business agent for the Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 23.

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