Juneau council's 2009 numbers a mixed bag

Posted: Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Juneau Economic Development Council released the Juneau and Southeast Alaska Indicators 2010 report today. Executive director Brian Holst said JEDC compiles a vast amount of research from various entities and in-house work every year to find out about the economic conditions affecting Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

Areas covered by the report include employment, demographics, voter registration, school enrollment, sales, taxes, living costs, housing inventories, ferry and air traffic, timber, seafood and the visitor industry, among other categories.

The report offers explanations to go with the numerical data reported.

Holt said JEDC's staff is very pleased with the product. He said it's important to have good, up-to-date information put together so people can look at the numbers and decide for themselves what they mean.

The executive summary of the report reads, "Juneau residents and businesses clearly experienced the negative effects of the national economic recession in 2009. Despite economic challenges, there were also positive 2009 indicators, and indications that some things will improve in 2010."

With more than 20 categories of commerce affecting Juneau broken down in the report, he cited some examples that stood out to him that exemplified this statement.

For example, Juneau's average 2009 unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, which the report states was significantly lower than the state and national averages of 8 and 9.3 percent, respectively.

However, Juneau's average unemployment rate was up 1.5 percent from 2008. This increase was smaller than the national average, which jumped 3.5 percentage points.

"In 2009, we see a lot of mixed messages here. While we did go up here, we did very well compared to the nation as a whole," Holst said.

The most recent numbers showed Juneau's unemployment rate to be 5.9 percent in June, 2010. This is down from this year's highest month for unemployment, February.

The report also breaks down employment and wages by industry.

"One big positive on the economy is the improvement in mining," said Holst. He said the addition of Kensington Mine operations should prove to be an economic benefit to the area. The report states the mine will ultimately employ about 200 workers and bring in approximately 125,000 ounces of gold per year during its anticipated 12.5 year operating life.

He also said the report shows a recovery from government job losses in past years.

The report also revealed an increase in elementary school populations and increased enrollment at University of Alaska Southeast. Juneau's population was also up slightly in 2009, reversing a decade-long slide, Holst said.

One number that was definitely down in 2009 was the number of tourists coming to Juneau. Holst said cruise ship passengers coming ashore in Juneau declined in 2009, the first time in 20 years.

"There was a significant decline in tourists because of cruise ships pulling out of Juneau," he said. The economic recession and higher industry taxes contributed factors to this, Holst said.

The report states that approximately 150,000 fewer cruise passengers are expected in 2010 over 2009. Holst said this could turn around by the next tourist season with additional cruise lines adding Juneau and Southeast to their itineraries.

The full Juneau and Southeast Alaska Indicators 2010 report can be found at www.jedc.org.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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