Across Alaska: Anchorage suffered during the pandemic but some say the economy is slowly healing

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s no surprise that Alaska’s largest city suffered during the pandemic. According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the city of Anchorage lost about 14,000 jobs in less than 12 months during the pandemic.

Still, University of Alaska Anchorage professor and economist Mouhcine Guettabi said he believes the city’s worst economic woes are behind it.

“The real question is, how quickly do we get back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

Guettabi is predicting Anchorage will be about 95% back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022. Some industries, he said, like health care and construction, are coming back quickly. Others may take longer.

“The sectors that have struggled the most are the ones that rely on face to face transactions,” he said.

That includes tourism businesses, which were hit hard when travel across the country came to a halt. But in downtown Anchorage there are signs that some tourists have returned. Anchorage Trolley Tours owner Cyrus Aldeman loaded a steady stream of visitors for a tour around town on Thursday. Aldeman said he felt optimistic this summer would be a better one, and to some extent, Visit Anchorage President Julie Saupe agrees.

“We actually have seen visitors on the street, which is very exciting,” Saupe said. “We are hearing about bookings so there is optimism.”

But Saupe cautioned there are also challenges. Despite recent legislation allowing cruise ships to return to Alaska waters without stopping in Canada, she doesn’t believe it’s likely ships will visit ports in Southcentral Alaska. Visitors to Anchorage, she said, will have to be willing to fly.

“We know, over all, the visitor industry is coming back, but a lot of people are saying, this year it’s going to be a couple of fantastic road trips, and with the Canadian border closed that really limits our ability to attract that consumer,” Saupe said. “But we know that we’ve got great capacity and we’ve got really good airfares right now, so there are reasons to be optimistic.”

Another industry that struggled mightily is also seeing a turnaround. Bars and restaurants laid off staff when emergency mandates closed their doors. But many say they are having the opposite problem now, they can’t hire enough people to serve customers who are coming back. Restaurants like the Bear Tooth Grill are raising wages and offering bonuses, according to Assistant General Manager Lei Sousa- Sommo.

“It’s very difficult right now to staff, so just bringing in new people is the challenge that we are facing in every part of our restaurant here and at Moose’s Tooth, is just getting folks in to work,” Sousa- Sommo said.

In another positive sign, Sousa-Sommo said that when the business is up to staff, they will reopen the theater in the Bear Tooth Theatrepub and begin showing movies again this summer.

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