Ask an Economist: How has industry in Alaska changed since 1990?

Logging from the Big Thorne Timber Sale on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins /Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Over the last few decades in Alaska, some industries have grown, while others suffered. Long term trends can help paint a picture of bigger changes in the state economy.

Neal Fried, with the Alaska Department of Labor, is looking at which industries have gained and lost the most jobs since 1990.

Interview Highlights:

Why change happens: “There are lots of different reasons why there are winners and losers. Some of it’s just consumer taste change, some of it’s major structural economic changes, demographics change, like health care.”

Major losers: “The biggest single loser…was the federal government. Which was to some extent surprising. Federal civilian employment. Those are good jobs. They were the top one. They lost almost 2,500 jobs during that period of time.”

“One of the biggest ones that really, I would say represents a huge structural change, particularly for Southeast Alaska, was the logging industry. Real significant change for many of the communities in Southeast Alaska, which are still feeling those losses.”

Winners: “Not a big surprise, was healthcare. Almost a third of the jobs gained during that period of time were different categories of healthcare. They were big.”

“Another sort of interesting one…and maybe not surprising, was restaurants and other eating places. I mean we know that landscape has really changed a lot in Alaska. And a lot of that’s tied to — a lot of it’s consumer taste. It’s something that we just do a lot more than we used to. Some of it’s just, of course, because the population has grown as well. But it’s grown way faster than population.”

“I think things have changed significantly. I think the biggest change — and the reason we don’t notice it so much is because it’s something that happens slowly over time. But so much of that growth during that period of time came from the growth in what we’d call our service sector.”