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Anchorage’s job vacancies present struggles for summer tourism

Anchorage’s job vacancies present struggles for summer tourism
Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 10:12 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A combination of “help wanted” signs scattered around Anchorage and a tight job market have steadily led to short staffing across the city, creating what experts say could be a tough summer for the tourism industry.

“Restaurants are already telling us they are having challenges,” Bill Popp, the president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, said. “We’re seeing it in some restaurants having to close for certain days of the week, to allow their staff time off, and for just lack of bodies to fill jobs.”

Popp said Anchorage is experiencing an out-migration problem. Since 2016, the state has seen a steady number of residents leaving Alaska, with 18,000 jobs lost in Anchorage from 2016 to 2020, including 12,000 alone in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Popp said the current issue is that the state is lacking individuals moving to Alaska.

“We’re not seeing the normally larger numbers of people moving to our state to fill jobs. We have lots of jobs, good-paying jobs, but the problem is so does the lower 48,” Popp said.

From 2010 to 2020, Alaska lost 27,000 working adults ages 18 to 64, with Anchorage representing over 15,000 of that, Popp said.

In 2021, an additional 2,500 jobs were added to economy, and Popp said the corporation projects an additional 2,400 jobs over the next year.

According to Popp, Alaska used to face limited competition, but with competing wages from the lower 48 and a higher cost of living in Alaska, the state is struggling to pull in new residents. That combined with a combination of an aging working population is leaving more jobs vacant.

In 2010, the corporation reported that residents 55 and older represented 19% of Anchorage’s population. Now, that number has spiked to 25% in 2021.

“That is a loss of experience from our workforce,” Popp said. “So we are going to be dealing with some challenges in the coming decade related to this aging out of our workforce, as well as fewer people moving here to fill in the younger age demographic.”

Those two factors together present a dire forecast for the summer tourism season, which brings additional traffic to the state and seasonal jobs that are needed to be filled. Pop said people can expect to see additional wait times in restaurants and hotels struggling with staffing and an impact on tourism activities, as the jobs needed to fill summer activity demands lack staffing.

“That may mean it’s not quite as great of an experience as we wanted to see for our visitors,” Popp said. “I am very much a believer that our visitor industry is up to the task, but it’s going to be a challenging time.”

According to Popp, Anchorage should continue to see a similar trend in the next few years. To solve it, Anchorage will need to come up with creative solutions on how to get more people to move to the city.

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