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Government a boon for workers

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

  A state employee with the Department of Transportation clears a road on the Kenai Peninsula last winter. Government is the largest employer on the peninsula. Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

A state employee with the Department of Transportation clears a road on the Kenai Peninsula last winter. Government is the largest employer on the peninsula.

Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

Government employment has grown on the Kenai Peninsula between 2000 and 2003, accounting for nearly $180 million in payroll in 2003.

Local government employment showed the largest increase during the same period with an 11.4 percent increase in employment — 322 more jobs.

Brigitta Windisch-Cole, an Alaska state economist, said the increase in local government employment is not unusual.

She said this is due to steady growth in employment at Kenai Peninsula Borough-owned hospitals. Tribal government payroll was transferred to the state government payroll, which also caused some increase, she said.

Previously, tribal governments were classified as not-for-profits but still were paid with taxpayer money, she said. Because of this technical shift, the increase is an inflated number, she said.

Of the 322 jobs, 153 were because of the accounting shift, she said.

Employment with the borough school district declined by 3 percent, she said.

Complete figures for 2004 are not yet available.

Lee Husky, economics professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said government employment can have a significant positive impact on the economy, especially if those employees are paid with money that comes from outside the Kenai Peninsula. This brings new money to the area which is spent in the local economy, he said.

In 2003, there were 427 federal employees and 1,069 state employees working in the borough, accounting for more than $64 million in wages. Federal government employment in the borough decreased by 2.1 percent between 2000 and 2003 to 427 jobs while state employment increased by 6.7 percent to 1,096 jobs.

Windisch-Cole said government employment can benefit local economies because it is usually stable employment. But she said there could be an increase in government job openings in coming years. The government work force in Alaska — and the nation as a whole — is aging, meaning many will retire soon and leave jobs open, she said. In 1999 the average age of a state employee was 49.6. For local government employees it was 41.1.

Mark Fowler, purchasing officer for the borough, said capital projects, especially improvements to borough hospitals, will play a major role in the borough's contribution to the economy. Capital construction projects are contracted out by the borough, he said. The hospital improvements will be major and could involve contractors and subcontractors, he said.



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