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Where are the jobs to be found in Alaska's air-tight employment market?

Sean Doogan
Anchorage's unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 percent in August. Loren Holmes photo

Alaska continues to be a good place to find a job, according to a new Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) report that found the statewide unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national average. Anchorage, the state’s largest city, had an even lower percentage of people looking for work than the state as a whole. But by far the biggest drop in unemployment between 2012 and 2013 happened on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat Su Valley.

The latest figures from the AEDC put the August unemployment rate for Anchorage at 4.8 percent. The rate for the entire state was 5.7 percent, and the national average was 7.3 percent for the same month. The corporation said 7,324 people were actively looking for jobs in August -- 760 fewer than in 2012.

How good are those numbers?  The best monthly unemployment rate Anchorage has ever boasted is 3.9 percent in December of 1998, according to James Starzec, research director for AEDC.  The city's best for an entire year is 4.3 percent the same year.  

The oil and gas, construction, health care and education sectors all showed job growth. Government jobs continued to decline, with a loss of 800 jobs -- split evenly between federal and state and local governments -- from August 2012.

While things look good in Anchorage, they are positively booming on the Kenai Peninsula.

AEDC President Bill Popp said that area has seen a 15 percent decrease in unemployment compared to August 2012. A uptick in oil and gas exploration and drilling in Cook Inlet is fueling the Peninsula’s job growth.

“We are really seeing a renaissance take hold on the Cook Inlet oil patch,” Popp said. 

The Peninsula unemployment figures do not yet include an expected cut of 90 area jobs, as oil services company CH2M Hill expects to eliminate most of its workers there.

“But I would expect anyone who is currently working for CH2M Hill on the Peninsula should have little trouble getting a similar job with another company in the area,” Popp said.

Popp said he expects there to be between $500 and $600 million spent on new investment for oil and gas on the Kenai Peninsula this year. That is up considerably from the $100 million just a few years ago. And Cook Inlet oil production continues to rise -- now more than 15,000 barrels per day, compared to just 9,000 per day in 2008.

In the Mat-Su, a retail surge seems to be the leading cause for a 14 percent unemployment drop, according to Popp.

If the trend continues, Popp has said Anchorage’s rate could be as low as 4.5 percent by October. In 2006, the average yearly unemployment was also 4.9 percent, the last time the city reached that level. In 1998, the average yearly rate was 4.3 percent.

Bottom line: Alaska remains a good place to look for work, with its largest city holding its own.

“The trend is looking really good for Anchorage unemployment,” Popp said. “We may even end the year with an average unemployment under 5 percent.”

Contact Sean Doogan at sean(at)alaskadispatch.com