The Kenai Peninsula is the third-fastest growing area in the state, according to a state labor economist. At 25.5 percent, the peninsula falls behind the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Wade Hampton census area for areas with annual average population growth above the state's annual average from 1990 to 2002.
State labor economist Brigitta Windisch-Cole was at Wednes-day's Kenai Chamber of Com-merce luncheon to discuss changes in the Kenai and Soldotna economy over the last decade. She said that of the top three population increases, only the peninsula's growth wasn't the result of any anomaly.
"You've heard stories of the magnificent growth of the Mat-Su Borough," Windisch-Cole said. "But it is because it's a bedroom community of Anchorage, the largest job market in the state."
Wade Hampton's population growth outpaced the peninsula by just a half of a percent, growing by 26 percent. She attributed this mostly to the Wade Hampton area's considerably smaller population and said it didn't take a lot of people to make a large impact.
Windisch-Cole's presentation showed the peninsula could expect significant graying in its population, with the largest growth over the past 12 years among people age 55 or older. She suggested that such growth would contribute to more jobs in the health care industry.
"We conclude that aging is going to increase on the peninsula and have a significant impact on the economy," Windisch-Cole said. "That means there will be more need for doctors and nurses."
The report showed where the Kenai and Soldotna areas contributed the largest pieces of the pie in taxable sales to the borough, making up 18.9 and 24.5 percent, respectively. And combined, the two cities kept pace with Anchor-age in job market growth, reflecting 20 percent over 12 years.
Public sector work, government related jobs that included the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, local municipality, state and federal workers, and Central Peninsula General Hospital employees, made up the majority of the nearly 11,500 salaried and waged jobs the peninsula averaged in 2002.
The school district was the largest employer with 848 jobs, followed by the hospital, the borough and Peak Oilfield services.
Public sector jobs also provided a larger payroll than did natural resources jobs -- 25.2 percent versus 22.3 percent -- however, the largest wages were earned in the natural resources sector, with oil and gas jobs topping the list with and annual average pay of $72,253.
"The oil industry and its magnificent wages plays a big part in lifting wages for Kenai," Windisch-Cole said.
She said boroughwide unemployment numbers are impacted by seasons, but said the Kenai and Soldotna areas were not as significantly affected by seasonal employment. She showed where employment numbers were only moderately raised during summer months in the central peninsula area, compared to marked employment spikes in Seward.
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