Report paints less than rosy picture for Juneau

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

A "sluggish" local economy in 2002, defined by slow growth in wages and population, and a slumping retail sector, were among the findings of an economic report released Friday by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

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Juneau Economic Indicators

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The report, prepared by the local consulting firm The McDowell Group, was produced by the JEDC in collaboration with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and the city.

"I think the important thing about the report is that the economic indicators look backwards," said JEDC Executive Director Lance Miller. "They're history. They are not telling us what will happen in the future, but they are a framework for what will happen in the future."

Numbers compiled from local, state and federal entities showed a 1 percent increase in Juneau's population, an overall increase of about 0.3 percent in employment, and a $68 million increase in business sales.

But the report also found that wages in Juneau, along with the rest of the state, are lagging far behind those in the Lower 48.

" ... the ability to obtain a family wage job has diminished in Juneau and Alaska when compared to the Lower 48 over the last decade," the report states.

It shows that in the last 12 years the average wage in the Lower 48 has surpassed the average salary for Alaskans.

In 1990, the average wage for Alaskans was $30,631, $5,468 higher than the $25,163 made in other states. But by 2002, the average wage for Lower 48 workers jumped to $36,316, while the average wage in Alaska crept upward to $35,175.

Miller said the trend of Juneau's and Southeast's economies falling behind states in the Lower 48, combined with a growing statewide fiscal gap and decrease in oil production, are cause for pursuing smaller entrepreneurial endeavors.

"We want to try to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and foster a passion for trying new things, recognizing that some businesses will fail," he said.

The report, however, shows that despite efforts to diversify the local economy, the retail sector also is on a "downward trend."

"The closure of Family Grocer at the Airport Shopping Center and (most recently) Kmart has pushed retail employment to still lower levels," the report states.

Miller said JEDC is working to help business growth through loans, counseling and marketing.

"Juneau does recognize that it is a regional hub," Miller said, noting that JEDC tries to work with communities throughout Southeast Alaska to provide loans and business counseling.

Development of business in Southeast also helps Juneau, Miller said, pointing out that declining populations in the rest of Southeast could be contributing to slight population increases in Juneau.

While Juneau's population increased by about 300 people in 2002, Ketchikan's declined by about 200, and since the mid-1990s Wrangell-Petersburg's population has declined by about 20 percent and Wrangell's has declined by about 15 percent.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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