Anchorage unemployment at five-year low

Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Unemployment in Anchorage fell to 4.7 percent and a five-year low in October, according to a report from the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. It’s the lowest monthly unemployment figure since November 2007.

“4.7 percent is crazy-low unemployment – that compared to the rest of the country is pretty amazing,” said Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Popp said Anchorage’s unemployment rate compares to that of oil-boom North Dakota and government-influenced Washington, D.C.

The yearly unemployment average for Anchorage stands at 5.7 percent. Statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment was 7.1 percent for October and has averaged 7.2 percent in 2012, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

For the year Anchorage has gained 1,680 jobs, a 1.1 percent increase over 2011, according to the AEDC report. Of those, nearly 1,400 were in service industries.

A year-over-year increase of 2,100 jobs equates to 1.3 percent growth in the Anchorage workforce.

The year-to-date gain already surpasses AEDC’s 1,500 job gain projection for the year. Popp said this could mean closing in on 2,000 jobs added to Anchorage in 2012.

Health care remains a strong growth-sector for Anchorage, accounting for nearly a third of the city’s jobs added since the beginning of the year.

“In the last decade health care has accounted for almost 45 percent of job growth in Anchorage. We’re up about 500 jobs from last year,” Popp said.

Business and professional service industries have added 480 so far. Popp said that growth is three-times what AEDC had expected and could be a sign of continued growth in the future.

“That’s your architects, permitters, lawyers, engineers. These kinds of jobs can sometimes be interpreted as a leading indicator of where things may be headed in the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “They tend to be the ones who get first-dibs on large projects – construction, design projects, civil engineering work.”

Along with the possible forecast of an increase in development projects, Popp said construction was up 500 jobs in October alone, making construction employment flat for the year. While those numbers are not particularly encouraging by themselves, he noted that the industry had been in near constant decline since 2006.

Commercial development, such as the Tikhatnu Commons project, is the biggest reason for the construction job spike, Popp said.

The AEDC report shows modest retail growth of nearly 200 jobs, or 1.1 percent for the year, which Popp expects to continue as new to Anchorage such as Verizon and Bass Pro Shops add to recent retail expansion in the city.

At 4.7 percent unemployment, Anchorage’s October workforce was approximately 158,000 strong, leaving less than 8,000 unemployed individuals in the city. In Anchorage’s uniquely isolated situation, this makes for a much shallower labor pool. Popp said he’s starting to refer to it as a “labor puddle.”

As qualified professional help becomes harder to find, some companies are being forced to offer steep incentives to draw in employees from Outside.

“We’re now return to where we were before the national recession, in terms of companies spending as much as $10,000 to $15,000, sometimes $20,000 in costs associated with acquiring one employee for some of these skilled jobs,” Popp said.

Uncertainties regarding the federal budget, oil taxes and Anchorage’s energy supply could slow economic growth, but are also near impossible to predict. With that in mind, Popp said AEDC feels good about the future of the city’s economy.

“Right now we’re still optimistic for the next two-to-three years,” he said. “We’re on the street right now with our business confidence index survey. We’re polling local businesses to see what their perspective is on the coming year.”

The business confidence numbers will be released in late January.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/11/2016 - 8:56pm