Report: Juneau population may be inching up

Juneau Economic Development Council releases compilation of economic indicators

Posted: Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Juneau Economic Development Council on Wednesday published its 64-page annual report of Southeast Alaska economic indicators that shows the region's downward population trend may be reversing course.

"We've finally stopped a trend of declining population in Southeast Alaska this year. We see that the population in the region actually grew slightly from 2007 to 2008" by 1 percent, said Executive Director Brian Holst. "And that's fantastic news. Most of Southeast's growth is due to Juneau."

The report is a compilation of data from various sources tracking and quantifying many Southeast Alaska and Juneau-specific economic trends: Juneau is getting older demographically, capital creep is real, the cost of living remains high, the Kensington mine is good for the economy, and the cruise and timber industries' woes are bad for the economy.

On capital creep:

"It's real. Juneau jobs are going away faster than they're coming back," Holst said.

Juneau lost a net total of 82 jobs while Anchorage, Fairbanks and elsewhere gained state jobs from January 2007 to June 2009. Additionally, the jobs that have left Juneau have tended to be higher paying jobs, and the jobs returned have tended to be lower paying, Holst said.

While there weren't many surprises, Holst said the contrast between the recession's effects elsewhere and locally was notable.

"The story we see, what emerges, we've had a stable economy in Juneau while the rest of our nation has gone through a tumultuous period," he said.

For example, amid the mortgage meltdown, the average sale price of a single family home in Juneau fell 8.6 percent from $322,779 to $295,061 between 2007 and 2008 and the number of new homes permitted fell 45 percent, from 71 to 39.

That reflects the softening housing market everywhere, but the backpedaling was more modest in Juneau than elsewhere, Holst said. And the preliminary 2009 numbers suggest a rebound in the housing market already is underway in Juneau, Holst said.

"Part of why we didn't have much of a correction, we didn't have much of a bubble," Holst said.

The report also shows interesting discrepancies in rental housing. In the same 2007 to 2008 period, the average rent climbed 4.6 percent from $1,076 to $1,125. And in 2007, a disproportionately large percentage of Juneau renters - compared to their regional, state and national counterparts - paid more than 30 percent of their income for rent, a common rule of thumb for defining affordable housing.

The percentage of Juneau homeowners paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, meanwhile, was in line with regional, state and national ratios.

What the homeowners vs. renters discrepancy boils down to is a lack of rental units in Juneau, Holst concluded.

The Juneau Economic Development Council is a nonprofit agency with a mission of fostering healthy and sustainable economic climate in Juneau and Southeast. It has an annual budget of about $3 million that comes from grants, contracts and projects, including a annual $250,000 grant from the city.

The report was compiled in-house. Holst estimated council staff spent about 200 man-hours compiling it. Sponsors also contributed $15,000 to support the research and its distribution. The full report is available online at www.jedc.org.

• Contact Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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