Sen. Jesse Kiehl has spent more than a decade working in the Capitol, and has watched as state jobs have trickled from Juneau to Anchorage and elsewhere.
Kiehl, a Democrat representing the capital city and Lynn Canal, said some governors have pushed hard for jobs to leave Juneau while others have held firm on keeping jobs closer to the Capitol. In a recent interview, Kiehl said Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration stands somewhere in the middle of the road.
“We’ve seen worse,” Kiehl said, “and we’ve seen a whole lot better.”
From 2006-2008, for example, when former Gov. Sarah Palin was in office, Juneau lost more than 140 state workers, according to numbers the Juneau Economic Development Council supplied to the Empire.
From July 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, Juneau has seen a net loss of 17 state jobs to other communities in Alaska, according to figures from Alaska Data Enterprise Reporting (ALDER) Data Warehouse that Dunleavy Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow provided to the Empire. In total, according to those statistics, 43 jobs have moved to Juneau while 60 have moved out. Fifty-two of those 60 jobs have gone to Anchorage.
This trend is not new, as jobs have been drifting to Anchorage bit by bit over the years. In 2004, 18.1 percent of state jobs were in Juneau, which was its highest percentage in recent history, according to statistics from JEDC. That percentage dwindled to 15.7 percent in 2018, the same year the percentage of state jobs in Anchorage reached a peak of 41.7 percent, according to JEDC.
The JEDC statistics are from the state’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said the peaks for Anchorage and Juneau aren’t necessarily all-time highs.
Shuckerow and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Laura Cramer gave virtually the same statement to the Empire about the administration’s role in this job shift, saying the task of evaluating whether to move jobs mostly belongs to commissioners. As of Jan. 31, 26 of the state’s 36 commissioners or deputy commissioners were stationed in Anchorage, according to employment records supplied to the Juneau delegation. Eight were in Juneau and two were on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“Gov. Dunleavy’s administration has not changed or implemented any policy specific to state jobs in Juneau or elsewhere in the state,” Cramer wrote in an email. “Commissioners are tasked with managing their departments in the most efficient and effective manner they see fit — aligning with the governor’s policies and leadership direction. On occasion this may require realignment of positions not only in Juneau, but statewide as well.”
Juneau’s legislative delegation has tried to keep an eye on Dunleavy’s commissioners since the beginning of the year. This January, Juneau’s legislators sent letters to every commissioner in the state requesting that they be notified in advance if a commissioner considers moving a job out of Juneau.
In an interview Friday, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, said that she, Kiehl and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, are also attempting to respond to commissioners’ reasoning for moving jobs with additional information about why keeping the job in Juneau might be a good idea.
“It is my role to say, ‘What’s the rationale for this?’” Story said. “I think the community expects this of us.”
The ripple effect
Holst said he doesn’t see this migration in recent years as an extraordinary shift of state jobs away from Juneau, as the jobs appear to be following the concentration of residents.
“There is logic to state jobs following the population of the state — you need services and to deliver services to people, so it makes sense that there is a greater concentration of jobs in Anchorage where there is a greater concentration of people,” Holst said in an email.
Hannan agreed that jobs appear to be shifting toward population centers in the state. Even though Juneau has the third-highest population in the state, Hannan said jobs seem to be shifting toward Anchorage. In an interview Friday, Hannan said there’s a pattern nationwide of people moving from rural to urban areas, and that the 49th state appears to be following suit.
“I think Alaska’s now approaching that, and that’s now what we’re seeing, the concentration of our economy going into cities,” Hannan said. “We used to think of Juneau as one of those cities, but will that continue?”
Since 2015, Juneau’s population has fallen from 33,128 to 32,247 in 2018, according to a Department of Labor and Workforce Development report released earlier this year. Meilani Schijvens, executive director of research firm Rain Coast Data, told the Empire at the time that this three-year decline in Juneau residents is the longest slide for the community since the 1960s. By comparison, Anchorage’s population has decreased by 1.1 percent overall since 2015 while Juneau’s has decreased by 2.6 percent, according to the report.
In an interview this month, Schijvens said this loss in population is tied to a decline in oil prices in recent years and a reduction of state government as a whole.
“Juneau’s been incredibly hit hard by the loss of state jobs,” Schijvens said. “You feel that in the economy. We’ve lost 900 people from our community as a direct result of that economic downturn that’s happened in our state government sector.”
Story concurred, referring to the “ripple effect” of losing state jobs in town.
Other industries have grown as state jobs decline, including the visitor/tourism industry — which has grown by 32 percent in Southeast Alaska since 2010, according to Rain Coast Data. Hannan pointed out that those jobs don’t have the same benefits and retirement plans that state jobs offer. Those higher-benefit jobs are more conducive to developing a longer-term population.
“There’s nothing wrong with an economy that has a substantial part of service sector jobs, our summer employment,” Hannan said, “but those aren’t jobs that support having a mortgage in Juneau. Those aren’t jobs that put kids into our school system.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.