Glasses half empty at Chamber of Commerce luncheon

Even after listening to a generally optimistic presentation about the city’s economic outlook, the majority of the 40-some people at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday said they expect to face some financial struggles in 2016.

Brian Holst, the executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, allowed everyone present at the meeting to look, if only briefly, through his rose-tinted glasses during his hour-long presentation to the chamber. Though Holst doesn’t conceal the fact that he may be a “smidge optimistic,” he told the audience that Juneau is not in a recession.

“We are not today in a recession, and we don’t have any evidence that we are in recession,” he said, then explaining that there is evidence to back up his view. Holst said that several important economic indicators — including rising wages and a low unemployment rate — corroborate this claim.

During the past two years government wages increased, on average, by about .3 percent, according to data from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In that same time, private-sector wages increased on average by about 1.5 percent. The JEDC compiled these data sets in a brochure that it distributed Thursday.

Holst also spoke briefly about how each industry in Juneau is doing. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of jobs in the fields of hospitality, arts and science and tech grew significantly. The number of state government jobs, which account for nearly a quarter of all of Juneau’s jobs last year, remained relatively static. However, the number local and federal jobs, both among the city’s higher-paying jobs, decreased.

Rather than asking whether we are in a recession, Holst said that people should be asking if we are headed into one “because that is certainly plausible.” And according to most of the people in the room, we are.

At one point during his presentation, Holst presented his audience with four statements about Juneau’s economic outlook for the coming year. The statements, basically a Likert scale, ranged from the ultra-negative “we’re doomed” to the ultra-positive “we’re better than ever.” Using a text-message-based polling system, Holst polled the audience and found that 64 percent of respondents, most of whom hold high-ranking positions in businesses from the area, expect that Juneau will encounter some economic hardships in 2016.

The doom-and-gloom response received 12 percent of the votes. The overly cheery response received 8 percent and 16 percent of respondents said they are not particularly worried headeing into next year.

After the presentation, Holst told the Empire that he doesn’t believe the city is headed into a recession but there is “one big caveat.” It depends on how the state Legislature handles its budget crisis, he said.

In a community that is heavily dependent on state government jobs — which account for almost 30 percent of the city’s total wages, according to the JEDC — the actions of the Legislature could have drastic impacts.

“We could create a recession by having dramatic cuts in government spending,” Holst said after his presentation. “It’s a little bit out of our hands, but it is within the control of the Legislature, and I remain optimistic that our elected leaders can get us through this.”

Holst also spent a healthy portion of his presentation discussing migration in and out of Juneau. Between 2010 and 2011, the city experienced a net migration of 586 people. This means that there were 586 more people who came to the city than who left during that time period. Since then the net migration has been declining, and between 2013 and 2014 the city’s population decreased by 227 people.

Compared to the city’s overall population of more than 32,000, this negative net migration is rather small and is not a cause for concern, according to Holst and JEDC program officer Eva Bornstein.

“It’s a miniscule departure,” Borstein told the Empire after Holst’s presentation. “It’s not a mass exodus, and at the moment, it’s not a worry number.”

During his presentation, Holst explained that Juneau’s population shifts are determined by a sort of “push and pull.” Juneau’s high cost of living, for example, may “push” residents to move to other cities. It’s high quality of life, on the other hand, may “pull” people to it. The improving economy of the Lower 48 may explain last year’s negative net migration, Holst said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Dec. 6

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Most Read