State economic forecast looking up

Posted: Thursday, December 08, 2005

Slow, steady and sustainable growth is on the economic horizon in Alaska and will be for many years to come, the state’s top economist said Wednesday.

Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Director Mark Edwards gave the rosy forecast during a presentation to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Edwards called the economic picture painted by focusing on specific numbers, like gas prices, apart from other indicators “the spotlight approach” to economic outlook.

Edwards said he prefers a “flood light” approach that factors in more data. Although gas prices may make things look bad, he said, industries with a large economic impact on the Kenai Peninsula — like seafood production — have increased over the past few years.

“It could actually be 60 percent positive and 40 percent negative, so it really depends on how you look at it,” he said.

One of the encouraging signs pointed to throughout the presentation was a trend toward steady growth spread out over many industries in Alaska over the past 20 years. While wage and job growth and exports have risen and lowered over that time, there is an upward trend overall.

“The U.S. economy as a whole was much more volatile during these years,” he said. “We’ve really gotten past that boom-and-bust cycle.”

Another encouraging sign is the addition of several thousand jobs to the economy without adding government jobs. Federal, state and local government jobs account for 27 percent of all jobs in Alaska. This figure is higher than the energy, mineral or service sectors, but the average wage in the energy industry is nearly double the average wage in the public sector. Construction jobs also pay more, and higher-wage jobs attract people to Alaska.

Edwards said during periods of low wage growth, many people left the state.

For many years a leader in per capita income, Alaska fell out of first place several years ago, hitting its lowest point in 1999, but has now reached sixth place. Holding steady is especially important in Alaska because one-third of Alaskans are under 20, skewing higher in the 10- to 20-year-old category than the 0- to 9-year-old category.

“If there aren’t any jobs here, they’ll leave,” he said.

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