Juneau's population sprung a leak, and a flood of young professionals left the community, according to a recent report.
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The annual economic overview released by the Juneau Economic Development Council indicates the population decreased by 532 residents between 2005 and 2006, the largest recorded single-year decline since 2000. Juneau's population slipped from 31,182 in 2005 to 30,650 in 2006, according to the report.
"The most interesting and perhaps most worrisome of the data concerns the pretty significant decline in the number of residents under the age of 40 in Juneau," said Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group, the Juneau-based consulting firm that researched the report.
There are likely several factors that play into the decline of the younger population, Calvin said, including stagnant professional opportunities and the high cost of living in Juneau.
"So the big picture is we lost 1,000 residents under 40 (years old), gained about 500 over 40, for a net loss of about 500," he said.
But according to the city, Juneau's population actually increased over that same time period. The population estimate done by the Community Development Department shows Juneau's population increased by 148 residents during that same period, from 31,193 in 2005 to 31,341 in 2006.
"There is a discrepancy," CDD Director Dale Pernula said. "I'd like to find out what it is."
Juneau Economic Development Council's economic report
Pernula said the city and state's estimations of Juneau's population have been pretty consistent with each other in recent years until the significant difference between the two for 2006. The Community Development Department is looking into why those estimates appear to be so different, he said.
Juneau Assembly member Jonathan Anderson said Juneau's population doesn't appear to have slipped so dramatically when you consider the increase in sales tax revenue, the decrease in vacancy rates and the addition of employers such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart coming to the community.
"The city's own numbers, the action of the retailers, the sales tax income ... all seem to paint a more positive picture of Juneau," he said.
The Community Development Department conducts its own survey of the community by physically visiting properties and speaking with building managers to see how many units are vacant, Pernula said.
"We take the number of occupied dwelling units and we multiply by the number of people in the household," he said of the population estimate.
The research and analysis section of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development generated the numbers used for the Juneau Economic Development Council report. State Demographer Greg Williams said the department generates its population estimates by several means, including certain data from the Internal Revenue Service and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend applications.
What appears to reflect the decline in Juneau's population in 2006 is the "gross migration flow," or the number of residents moving away compared to those moving to town, he said.
"It looks like the percentage of people leaving hasn't changed much, but the number coming in might have changed," Williams said.
Calvin stressed that both population estimates are important, adding that the state's estimates tend to highlight the long-term trend.
"I think it may be a signal of a trend that we need to watch pretty closely," he said of the population decline. "It certainly has an implication on school enrollment and other things in our community that is related to the age of our population."
The Juneau Economic Development report shows the Juneau School District enrollment has declined for the fifth consecutive year.
"We don't have the kids coming in, we're getting older, and we're not retaining a younger generation that is starting businesses, taking new state jobs, raising families," JEDC Executive Director Lance Miller said.
Calvin said the JEDC report is not all bad news, adding that there is a really strong employment market in Juneau right now, and the community has gained a significant number of new jobs in recent years.
According to the report, employment in Juneau increased in 2006 by 393 workers, or by 2.2 percent from 2005. That is higher than the statewide average over the same period of 1.2 percent.
The jobs being created and the ones being filled are not necessarily those that will keep people in Juneau.
"There's a significant number of employment opportunities for people in Juneau, but there seems to be a mismatch of jobs available and the ones that young people are willing to stay in Juneau for or move to Juneau for," Calvin said.
State government is a prime example, Calvin said, which no longer appears to have the competitive edge to draw young professionals to Juneau.
"Our primary economic engine in Juneau, which is state government, used to attract people from outside Alaska and across the state because of high wages and generous medical and retirement benefit packages, and that really is no longer the case," he said.
When accounting for inflation and the cost of living, state wages have actually decreased over the years, he said.
The JEDC report also indicates that Juneau's rental costs continue to be the highest in the state, with an average of $1,076 a month. The cost of living index also is higher for Juneau than it is for Anchorage or Fairbanks.
People are leaving Juneau because they can make a better living elsewhere, whether that is in Anchorage or the Lower 48, said Chuck Collins, chairman of the JEDC Board.
"It has always cost more to live in Alaska, but usually the pay made up for it," he said. "But that's just not the way things are now."
The population decline of Southeast Alaska is also noteworthy, Calvin said. The region has lost nearly 3,000 residents since 2000, while other areas of the state have grown, he said. In that time frame Anchorage has gained roughly 22,000 residents, the Matanuska-Susitna area has gained 17,000 and Fairbanks has increased by 5,000, he added.
"So this relative loss of a share of our population in our state has pretty big implications for us as the capital and for ferry service and other issues in Southeast that depend on statewide political and financial support," Calvin said.
The community, industry and government will have to work together for Juneau to grow and for the capital to flourish, Miller said.
"Juneau as a community needs to embrace the challenges and opportunities, because Juneau does have a lot of assets to work with," he said. "With the growth in population in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area, Juneau is going to have to be even more proactive to maintain a vibrant economy."
Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or email@example.com.
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