Diversity keeps area economy fueled

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

The Kenai Peninsula's economy is not so bad off. And diversity is the reason.

This was the central message of a presentation Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Economist Neal Fried made at the Peninsula Job Center Thursday.

"The peninsula has done quite well in a relatively short time," Fried said. "It's really a myth that Alaska is a boom-bust economy."

He said since 1959, the peninsula has faced three busts and has still created more jobs, and more than 15,000 currently exist.

"The peninsula's economy tends to be more interesting because it is more diverse," Fried said. "Maybe the peninsula economy can become a leading example for the rest of the state."

He showed where the peninsula's job market is well distributed among industries, including 22 percent to government, 20 to trade, 19 to services, 12 to entrepreneurs, 7 percent to oil and gas, 6 percent to construction and transportation, and 3 percent to seafood.

According to Fried, in the past 11 years the retail industry has produced 1,311 jobs, the most on the peninsula. The service industry, including health care and hotels, created 842 jobs, followed closely by government, which includes Kenai Peninsula Borough School District positions. Construction had 389 jobs, oil created 194 positions, and transportation opened 89 spots.

Fried said, unlike many other areas in the state that rely on only limited economic drivers, the peninsula reflects many Lower 48 communities in its diversity.

"The peninsula is more like the rest of the U.S. than the rest of Alaska," he said. "In most places in Alaska, manufacturing means seafood or timber."

Fried said within many of these industries there are even seemingly unrelated sectors adding to the growth. He pointed to seafood processors, chemical production, oil refineries, wood products and printing and publishing as components of the manufacturing pie.

"The importance of diversity (is), when you have these industries, you always have potential to build more," he said.

This potential, he said, is what has helped to spread the wealth of federal expenditures Alaska received in 2000. The state was the No. 1 recipient of federal dollars, with $9,456 per man, woman and child, he said. This is almost double the national average of $5,740.

As this money comes to the peninsula, it is circulated throughout other significant industries.

"The multiplier effect is much higher on the peninsula," Fried said.

He said the peninsula is cashing in on in-state tourism -- Alaskans vacationing and recreating on the peninsula -- and a gradual growth in population. The money coming in has helped to grow the retail and service industries into the biggest carriers in the area.

"The flip side of that is, if those sectors had not grown, your economy would not have grown, or would have grown very little," he said. "Amazingly, your oil has grown, but you have little more going for you."

Fried showed a 22 percent growth rate from 1990 to 2000, which is faster than the rest of Alaska.

"In spite of the fact that employment is not growing (on the peninsula) any faster than the rest of the state, the population is growing," Fried said.

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