Alaska jobs grow slow, but steady

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2004

ANCHORAGE (AP) Jobs in Alaska are predicted to grow steadily by 1.5 percent this year and 1.3 percent in 2005, according to the state Department of Labor's annual economic forecast.

Employers in the state expected to add 8,500 jobs over the next two years. Health care, retail and construction are expected to see the most growth, offsetting declines in oil and government jobs.

The Labor Department says that rate is typical of that since 1988, where job growth has consistently ranged between 1 and 3 percent. The slow and steady pace continued in Alaska even during the economic boom of the 1990s and subsequent recession.

''This forecast is just a continuation of that tight band of growth we've seen for more than a decade,'' said Neal Fried, one of the state labor economists who wrote it.

The department doesn't forecast Mat-Su or Kenai job growth. But Fried said Mat-Su added 8 percent more jobs last year compared with Anchorage's 2 percent, a trend he says has persisted for years.

But job growth has been slower in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, he said, pegging it at less than 1 percent last year. The borough's economy has been slowed by downturns in the fishing, timber and oil industries, Fried said.

Statewide, most of the job growth has been coming from Anchorage, Mat-Su and the Interior. A total of 3,300 health care and social services jobs are likely to be added in 2004 and 2005, compared with about 5,000 between 2003 and 2004, the economists predicted.

Although housing construction in Anchorage and Mat-Su could slow due to higher mortgage interest rates, an influx of about 1,200 Stryker Brigade troops and their families to the Fairbanks area and a series of large, publicly funded projects statewide should keep construction workers in high demand until the end of 2005, according to the state's forecast.

Alaska's hospitality industry is poised to add a total of 1,200 jobs statewide in 2004 and 2005, the Labor Department's forecast says.

Economists expect the oil and gas industry to lose about 100 jobs this year and then add 100 in 2005. The industry has lost jobs for the past two years.

Federal government employment is expected to remain at current levels while state government trims about 300 positions, the Labor Department predicted.

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