Marijuana cultivation to lead Alaskan job growth over next decade

marijuana plants
Recreational cannabis became legal in Alaska in 2015, and the industry has experienced “skyrocketing” growth since then — in fact, the Alaska Department of Labor reports that it’s only one of two sectors that experienced growth during the pandemic in 2020. (Flickr photo/Brett Levin)

The fastest job growth in Alaska over the next 10 years will be in agriculture, but if you’re thinking farmers and cows, think again.

The Alaska Department of Labor projects that marijuana cultivation will lead all industries in job growth statewide between now and 2030.

The biggest declines in jobs are projected to come from broadcast and print media.

a list
The top 25 Alaska occupations expected to gain workers through 2030, according to a state report. (From Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

The data are published in the October issue of Trends, the monthly report of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. 

Cannabis cultivation emerged as Alaska’s leading high-growth industry for jobs because — unlike every other sector — it did not suffer a setback during the pandemic in 2020.

Job growth in marijuana cultivation and production actually increased by 8.2% that year; far ahead of the only other sector to remain in positive territory — millwrights — which saw job growth of about 2%.

Statistically speaking, marijuana is lumped into the “farming, fishing, and forestry” category, but state economists say that job growth in this category is driven by marijuana, and its dominant occupation is farmworkers and laborers, which represent about 40% of marijuana employment. This is also where almost 80% of the sector’s growth is expected to come from in the next 10 years.

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The bottom 25 Alaska occupations expected to lose workers through 2030, according to a state report. (From Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

Typically, health care is a strong sector for job growth, and the numbers suggest a post-pandemic rebound may be on its way: 14 of the top 25 fastest-growth jobs are in health care, with jobs ranging from surgical techs and registered nurses, to dieticians and recreational therapists. All those jobs fall below veterinarian, however, which is expected to see 16% more growth in the next decade.

The list of occupations expected to decline in Alaska reads a little like a 1990s career aptitude test: Fallers and logging equipment operators are on the decline, as are insurance sales agents, printing press operators and mechanical drafters.

Leading the pack in job declines, however, are broadcast announcers, news analysts, reporters, journalists, and broadcast technicians — which are all expected to see losses around 35% by 2030.

Alaska is a relatively small state in a large broadcasting world, however, and that tends to inflate the statistics somewhat. The actual number of broadcast and journalism jobs the state will lose is 36, with a third of that loss occurring during the pandemic. The data don’t capture how many people in the arts, design, entertainment, sports and media category transitioned to freelance work, or became self-employed, which is common in this sector.

Factoring pandemic job losses into the overall picture for the next 10 years is important to consider. Other jobs in the bottom 25 include bartenders and ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers. The discussion in Trends points to an apparent contradiction: “If we were to look only at 2020-2030, these occupations would appear to be among the fastest growing — but they hemorrhaged jobs during the pandemic, making the recovery look like massive growth. From pre-pandemic levels, the decade decline is around 5%.”

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Robert Woolsey is a reporter at KCAW in Sitka.

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