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Forecasting Alaska: ‘We’re in a pandemic and I’m buying a business?’

Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 12:00 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Beth Wilson turned on a red overhead light, then switched it to white. She flipped through her iPhone before finally selecting Cardi B.

“I love her,” Wilson said.

Wilson cranked the volume on the speakers and began to ride a stationary bike positioned in front of a sea of empty spin bikes that, before the pandemic, would have been filled to capacity with a waitlist of hopeful riders competing for a spot.

Wilson was one of the most popular spin motivators at Anchorage Cycle. That was before the classes went virtual and class sizes were limited by citywide mandates meant to keep the COVID-19 case counts down.

Almost a year after the pandemic began in Anchorage, Wilson found herself in a position to finally realize one of her dreams, but at perhaps one of the most uncertain times in the city’s history.

“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of, ‘Ah, oh my gosh what am I doing? We’re in a pandemic and I’m buying a business?’ But I’m ready for it,” Wilson said.

Wilson met with Alaska’s News Source at what is now formally Anchorage Cycle, but will soon become Just Ride.

“I mean I get in my head some moments, but I’ve just kind of put on my tunnel vision goggles and decided to just go and focus and grind,” Wilson said, “and it’s been my dream for many, many years and the opportunity came. So, I feel like I would forever regret not doing this.”

Alaska, and Anchorage, have been in an ongoing recession that, at first, appeared as it might improve in 2020. Then coronavirus arrived and destroyed any hopes of a quick recovery.

According to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., between March and April 2020, Anchorage’s economy shed about 18,800 jobs. While the economy regained some lost jobs, employment remains far below normal.

The AEDC economic forecast, produced by McKinley Research Group with data from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, predicts Anchorage will add 4,000 jobs this year. The city lost nearly 14,000 jobs in 2020. AEDC reports that Anchorage ended 2020 with less than 2,000 oil and gas industry jobs, down more than 20% from 2,500 in 2019.

But the industry impacted the hardest was leisure and hospitality.

“There’s not been one sector that’s been spared the losses right now. We’re about 15,000 jobs lower than where we were last year in Anchorage. Leisure and hospitality and retail obviously have taken the brunt of those losses,” Mouhcine Guettabi, an economist with the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage said.

Even a once-bright spot in the Anchorage economy, health care, tumbled this past year.

AEDC reports that health care ended 2019 with its first employment decline in more than a decade. According to AEDC, in 2020 employment averaging 20,100, 800 jobs below 2019.

Additionally, the health care sector initially lost 2,000 jobs between March and April because of the pandemic although it gradually added jobs back as the year progressed.

While leisure and hospitality were impacted the hardest, AEDC predicts it will also have the biggest compact. That sector is expected to gain 1,700 jobs in Anchorage.

“To be sure, this will be a long journey to full recovery; we have both the five-year recession and the pandemic to recover from,” Bill Popp the president and CEO of AECD said.

Meanwhile, Wilson prepares to reopen her newly renovated cycle studio within the next few weeks. Wilson says she expects her classes to start filling up again as more people get the coronavirus vaccination.

“There’s a lot of virtual things going on but nothing beats where people are supposed to connect with each other, Wilson said, “It’s a dark room, it’s music, it feels kind of like a club like. We ride to the beat of the music ... that’s nothing that your living room can touch.”

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