Telecom, media workers among top AK earners

Demand for cell phones, fiber-optics makes Alaska top wired state in nation

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

Alaska's information sector provides the state's third-highest-paying work force, a jump ahead from its status a decade ago, according to state economists.

With demand from fishermen using satellite phones and villages connecting to the rest of Alaska through cellular phones and fiber-optics, the industry has fared better here than in some other states, according to research.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development published a report focusing on the growth in its September issue of Trends magazine. It says jobs in the information sector pay average salaries of $48,047 and the telecommunications business within the sector pays $59,584.

The information industry ranks below natural resources and mining, and construction, which top Alaska's list of annual earnings with average salaries at $87,341 and $59,945, respectively.

The statewide average for all industries is $37,860.

"Anytime there is a high demand in the industry salaries will go up," said David Morris, spokesman for telephone and Internet service provider General Communication Inc.

Morris said that in the late 1990s industry experts flocked to companies in Seattle and California, but after the dot-com bust Alaska's salaries have been more competitive.

The information sector is a relatively new category that lumps the media with telecommunications services. In Alaska, telecommunications jobs dominate the sector at 60 percent, compared with the national figure of 33 percent.

Previous studies of earnings by the state looked at more specific job categories, and information salaries were ranked ninth in 2003, said state economist Brigetta Windisch-Cole.

Alaska is unique for having villages equipped with fiber-optic cables and access to high-speed Internet, Morris said. The company acquired private investment to build infrastructure to the villages so a variety of business, such as online banking, could be done with residents, he added.

Anchorage was recognized by a recent issue of Foreign Direct Investment magazine as the nation's second-best city for telecommunications and information technology connections.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2003 said Alaska was the most wired state in the nation per capita.

Windisch-Cole said the demand for services is high in Alaska for many different reasons, one them being that Alaskans are more likely to have relatives living more than a day's drive away.

"I remember when long-distance phone calls were hit or miss," said Windisch-Cole said. "Now I can call France, Greece or Germany and it sounds like a local call."

The report also featured a letter from Gov. Frank Murkowski, who said the telecommunications market is slowly transforming Alaska from a state unto itself into a global participant.

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



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