Fewer new jobs forecast for Anchorage

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Local economic forecasters have lowered their expectations for job growth in Anchorage, saying they expect to see about 1,700 new jobs in the area this year.

That compares with the roughly 2,100 jobs added to the local economy last year and is 250 fewer than had been expected prior to Kmart's announcement Tuesday that it will close all five of its Alaska stores by the end of April.

In Anchorage, where the ailing retailer has two stores, the closings will put about 368 people out of work.

Many of those people will probably be able to find jobs in other area stores, University of Alaska Anchorage economics professor Gunnar Knapp said at the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.'s annual economic forecast luncheon Wednesday.

Even so, the surprise shutdown of the stores prompted a last-minute change in the AEDC's 2003 forecast for jobs growth in the trade sector, which includes retailers and restaurants. The group now expects no growth in that sector. It previously had expected 250 new jobs.

''Given the Kmart news, that projection probably is not going to come true,'' Knapp said.

Overall, about 140,000 people work in the local economy, and that figure is likely to grow about 1.2 percent this year, the AEDC predicted. That would be a slower rate than last year and continue a four-year trend of gradually declining growth.

But at least the Alaska economy is growing, said Utah-based economist Jeff Thredgold, the keynote speaker at the luncheon. Many states, especially in the West, have been losing jobs.

''I'm not sure you know how bad things are in some parts of the West right now,'' he said.

In Alaska, the construction industry is expected to be among the main sources of that growth this year, adding about 100 jobs, Knapp said. That would be about a 1.25 percent increase to the total number of construction jobs here.

Federal grants for highway, railroad and other infrastructure projects are responsible in large part for the continued growth in construction jobs, which have been steadily increasing for the past 10 years, according to Knapp.

The service sector, which includes hospitals, banks, law offices, auto body shops, hotels and many other businesses and nonprofits, is expected to be the source of most of the new jobs in Anchorage this year. The AEDC is forecasting 1,200 new jobs in services this year, which would be a 2.4 percent increase.

About two-thirds of all the new jobs this year will be in service industries, with the strongest growth in medical services and construction-related services such as engineering, Knapp said.

Modest growth is expected in the transportation and utilities sector, where about 200 jobs are likely to be added this year, a 1.3 percent increase.

Meanwhile, the AEDC said there likely will be no new jobs at all in the oil and manufacturing sectors. Oil fell by 400 jobs last year, Knapp said.

The AEDC forecast was based on research by Scott Goldsmith, a UAA economics professor, who was ill and could not present it at the luncheon.

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