The Anchorage economy showing promise can be used as an indicator for the rest of Alaska, Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., told the Society for Marketing Professional Services at an Oct. 23 luncheon.
Job growth, or lack thereof, is one of the first indicators he looks at when determining the health of an economy, Popp said. Figures were flat in 2009 and 2010 because employers were wary of faltering economies elsewhere.
Companies refrained from hiring, he said, to see whether “the global catastrophe was going to come washing over us.”
Anchorage lost roughly 900 jobs over that time, Popp reported. When employers determined the global recession was not going to impact the city as hard as it did other places, they flipped the hiring switch almost immediately in 2011.
“We saw the biggest year of employment growth in a decade,” Popp said.
Nearly 3,300 new positions were opened, equating to a 2.2 percent increase in total job numbers in one year, he said.
Over 2012, hiring will slow some, but Popp said indicators his organization looks at point to 1,600 additional jobs this year, or just more than 1 percent growth, a strong yearly outcome, he said.
Further projections show continued growth in Anchorage’s job market with the city adding about 6,000 jobs in the next three years, Popp said.
Recent numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the nationwide unemployment rate at 7.8 percent.
Currently, the rate for Anchorage is 5.5 percent, Popp said.
Another very important economic gauge for Anchorage is the city’s population, Popp said, particularly because of Alaska’s location.
“In our situation, all the way up in the upper left-hand corner of the continent, pretty much removed from other population centers, population is a big economic indicator,” he said. “If people are leaving Anchorage, we got trouble. If people are coming to Anchorage, or if all of you are getting fruitful and having kids, then we’re doing good.”
Population is a better tell of Anchorage’s economic status than it is of cities in the contiguous states because of the commitment it takes to move to or from Alaska, and to do that requires the promise of a good job for most people, Popp said.
To that point, if economic health is tied to population, recent growth forecasts paint a solid picture for the Anchorage economy.
“In 2012, we’re pretty confident we’re going to break the 300,000 mark in population for the first time in the history of Anchorage,” Popp said.
Further predictions show Anchorage growing to 310,000 people by 2015.
Proposed oil, gas and mining projects hold a lot of promise for the whole of Alaska, he said. The largest projects, those by Pebble Partnership, Shell and ConocoPhillips, among others, could provide the state with over 23,000 jobs in the next 6 to 8 years, Popp predicted. He urged for tempered enthusiasm, however, because many factors play into whether or not those projects will go off as planned.
“If we get a significant drop in the price of a barrel of oil, any of the oil-base projects will fall behind on the current timelines,” Popp said.
He also noted that the Arctic offshore drilling projects are dependant upon oil actually being found in the amounts forecasted. If everything falls together, Popp said, Alaska could be looking at $24 billion in commercial investment along with the job growth over the next decade.
Popp sees North Slope oil production remaining fairly steady until a few decisions are made, he said.
“I think we’re kind of in flux until the legislature decides what it’s going to do one way or the another definitively,” Popp said. “You’re going to continue to see a holding pattern and maintenance-level work being done on the North Slope, with the exception of Shell.”
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.