JEDC Report: Juneau’s Economy Is On The Upswing

JEDC’s Eva Bornstein delivers the 2013 Juneau and Southeast Alaska Economic Indicators Report to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Casey Kelly, KTOO - Juneau.
JEDC’s Eva Bornstein delivers the 2013 Juneau and Southeast Alaska Economic Indicators Report to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau.

Employment is up, wages are up, and the private sector is growing. That’s according to the Juneau Economic Development Council’s latest economic indicators report, which paints a positive financial picture for the Capital City and the rest of Southeast Alaska.

Eva Bornstein, JEDC’s lead researcher on the report, peppered her presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday with a series of pop quiz-style questions.

“Mining jobs pay the highest average wages in Juneau, which sector has the second highest average wages?” she asked.

The answer: The federal government.

While the Capital City’s economy continues to be heavily dependent on government jobs, Bornstein says the private sector is slowly taking on a bigger role. Last year, employment in Juneau was up 1.5 percent from 2011 with a total of more than 18,000 jobs. That’s despite local and federal government cuts, and essentially flat state employment.

“The private sector did a great job in jobs growth and has done so for three consecutive years,” Bornstein said. “We’ve been on an upswing. In 2012, three percent gain in jobs.”

Mining topped the list for job growth in all sectors, adding 171 jobs last year. Overall, the retail, health care, and tourism sectors are the top three private employers in Juneau.

Most areas of the economy saw wages grow in 2012, but once again mining led the way.

“Six-point-six percent increase in average wages in the past year. Professional and business services were second, also above six percent in gains,” she said. “Local government, state government were also above five percent.”

The median household income in the Capital City from 2009 to 2011 was more than $77,500. That’s about $10,000 higher than the rest of the state, and $26,000 higher than the median household income nationally.

Bornstein says that helps make up for the cost of living in Juneau, which is 30 percent higher than the national average.

“The highest costs are in our housing, our utilities and our health care,” she said.

Juneau’s population hit another all-time high last year, growing by more than 400 people to 32,832. And for the second year in a row, the city’s population got slightly younger. The median age of residents declined from 38 years old in 2011 to 37.8 in 2012.

Bornstein says most of the population growth has come from people moving to Juneau, which has strained the city’s already tight housing market. But relief may be coming soon. She says there were 71 new housing units permitted in 2012, and so far this year there have been more than 120.

“New housing units permitted, 2012 looked good, it was up,” Bornstein said. “But 2013 is looking spectacular.”

JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst says the annual economic indicators report fulfills the agency’s mission to help local business and government leaders make better, more informed decisions. He called the economic trends in the last year “very, very positive.”

“Employment is up in our region, all wages are up, our private sector is growing faster than our public sector, which in general is positive for our community,” Holst said. “The population is at an all-time high both in Juneau and in the region, and generally our industries are stable.”

The Chamber of Commerce crowd largely agreed with Holst.

Maryann Ray owns Pearson’s Pond, a luxury, boutique hotel in the Mendenhall Valley. She says business is back to where it was before bottoming out during the recession, and she only expects it to get better.

“This year we had the best July we’ve had since I purchased the inn, and people are starting to spend more on excursions,” Ray said. “I think the tourism industry is a trailing indicator of what’s going on. So, if we see things have gotten better this year overall, I think we’ll see tourism certainly improve next year as well.”

The economic indicators report is JEDC’s major annual publication. The entire report as well as past years’ economic indicators can be found at

Casey Kelly is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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