Figures on Alaska hires said to be rising

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State figures indicate that resident hires are on the rise across Alaska. For the first time in a decade, fewer than one in five Alaska workers lived outside the state in 1998.

Statistics indicate that those 70,000 nonresident workers earned nearly $1 billion in wages that year. Alaska's seafood processing industry is made up primarily of nonresidents, officials said. Another highly seasonal, low-paying industry is hotels, and it filled about a third of its work force with nonresidents.

Nonresidents accounted for just under 20 percent of all jobs and 11 percent of all wages in 1998, state figures indicate.

The state gets its numbers by comparing Permanent Fund dividend applications with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development's wage file. The state defines anyone who doesn't apply or qualify for a Permanent Fund dividend as a nonresident.

1999 dividend application information won't be compiled until midsummer, said Jeff Hadland, a state economist and author of the study.

About 15 percent of all people classified as nonresidents become eligible for Permanent Fund dividends and then are classified as residents the following year.

Other residency databases aren't as reliable as dividend applications, Hadland said. Not everyone drives, and people with an Alaska driver's license can live elsewhere. Fishing licenses fall far short of the total population and voter registration lists often are out of date, Hadland said.

A comparison with other states isn't possible. Alaska is unique in compiling resident-hire statistics, Hadland said. Other states don't have a comparable database like the Permanent Fund dividend application, and Alaska doesn't have a personal income tax to compare with other states.

Resident hire has gained about 1 percentage point a year for three years. Nonresident hire peaked in 1992 at 23.7 percent and bottomed out during the statewide economic crash in 1987 at 15.5 percent.

Alaska's improvement in recent years can be attributed primarily to state programs designed to train people to fill local jobs and the state's encouragement of resident hire, Hadland said.

Large construction projects also helped reduce nonresident-hire numbers, he said. Publicly-funded construction projects are required to hire 90 percent resident workers in various occupations, including plumbers, carpenters and pipefitters.

Nonresidents accounted for $929 million in wages, the state said. Those wages would generate up to $744 million in economic activity if the money were spent and then respent in-state, state figures indicate.

The food-processing industry, mainly seafood plants, again led with the highest percentage of nonresident workers. Nearly three out of every four workers were nonresidents. Hotels followed with about one-third nonresident workers, lumber and wood products were at about 30 percent, and oil and gas came in at 27.4 percent.

Some companies within industries are worse than others about hiring nonresident workers, the state said.

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. had the highest percentage of nonresident hire in the oil industry. The state classified roughly four in every 10 of the company's employees as nonresidents. Two of every 10 were nonresidents at rival Arco Alaska Inc., the state said.

The state's numbers are misleading, said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell. ''There are people who fall through the cracks,'' Chappell told the Anchorage Daily News.

The state's numbers don't include British expatriates working, living and paying property taxes in Alaska, he said. Expatriates can't answer ''yes'' to the Permanent Fund dividend application question about whether they intend to stay in the state, so they don't apply, Chappell said.

BP's internal numbers set its resident-hire rate at 81 percent, he said.

BP employees are asked to sign an affidavit about residency.

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