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Residents: Costs drive people away

Economic Development report finds 23% of those polled plan on leaving

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2006

Residents planning to leave Juneau say the city is too expensive and they can find better jobs elsewhere, according to a report from the Juneau Economic Development Council.

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About 23 percent of those polled said they plan to leave Juneau within the next five years and another 20 percent said moving was a possibility.

"You need jobs that are fulfilling and satisfying," said Lance Miller, executive director of the JEDC. "If there's not that kind of excitement and opportunity, it's hard to attract the kind of people who will attract new jobs."

The city's outdoor recreational opportunities, arts and entertainment scene and an environment conducive to raising a family were among the reasons residents choose to say, according to the poll quoted in the report.

The JEDC's annual economic overview, released this week, went a step further than previous studies and asked people why they choose to stay in Juneau or, if they plan to leave, what are the major factors.

The overview is used by city officials to direct policy calls and by businesses to examine the labor market.

Local research firm the McDowell Group conducted the polls, in which 307 Juneau households and 33 business were contacted at random by phone. The reported margin of error was 5.8 percent.

The report noted changes in wages, labor, housing prices and cost of living. The most worrisome economic trend for Juneau is its lack of young professionals between the ages 25 and 35 years old, Miller said.

Businesses polled said the key barrier to operating and expanding in Juneau is finding quality employees who can afford to live here, according to the report.

For those leaving, 76 percent said Juneau being too expensive was an important factor in their decision. Other popular reasons included being closer to family, 55 percent; having better career opportunities elsewhere, 47 percent; being unable to buy a home, 46 percent; and the weather, 35 percent.

Juneau's population has seen minimal growth, a 0.7 percent increase from 2004 as the city gained 227 residents, amounting to a total 31,193 last year.

Jim Calvin, a partner in the McDowell Group, said flat growth may discourage some outside companies looking to expand business or sell their products in Juneau.

Records show that Juneau's highest concentration of residents from a particular age group is between 45 and 55 years old. In the 1980s, residents who were 25 to 35 years old were the dominant demographic.

The Juneau Job Center is seeing a similar trend with people leaving town, said James Harvey, the center's manager. Reports from his staff showed about 75 percent of people leaving Juneau are doing so because the cost of living is too high, he said.

The majority of those interested in locating to Alaska from other states have expectations of higher wages and an interest in receiving the state's annual dividend check from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

The report also asked households to rate the economic importance of nine regional projects. About 83 percent said improved ferry service was important or very important. Juneau has experienced a decrease in service and 12 percent drop in passenger traffic from 2002 to 2005.

About 49 percent said construction of a highway from Juneau to a planned shuttle terminal near Skagway and Haines was either important or very important in developing Juneau's economy. Other projects in the poll included the Kensington Mine, which 76 percent viewed as important; a second bridge connecting Juneau to Douglas, which 70 percent said is important; and a new capitol, which 50 percent said is important.

Of 33 businesses surveyed, only one did not support the development of the Kensington Mine, Miller said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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