It is impossible to imagine a better year-over-year economic report than 2020 to 2021, due to the devastating economic conditions of 2020.
Jobs were up by 5% in 2021 overall while communities like Hoonah and Gustavus saw 18% and 19% job increases, respectively. Total wages were up by 11% (+$238 million) — higher overall than 2019 regional earnings. The overall average regional wage increased by 6%.
After a terrible harvest by all measures in 2020, the seafood sector posted incredible gains, becoming the #1 private sector industry in the region for the first time since 2015.
Even with just one-tenth of a normal cruise ship year, visitor industry numbers soared in 2021. Total passenger arrivals from outside the region went up by 155%, with visitor sector jobs up by 36%. The tourism payroll increased by $74 million. Air passengers nearly doubled. Even population and school enrollment figures grew.
Despite impressive gains, by many measures the region still lagged behind 2019. Jobs remained 8% below 2019 annual job figures, and 18% below peak summer employment levels.
Moving into 2022 and 2023 Southeast Alaska’s businesses report tremendous optimism, and with good reason. The significant federal investments into the region in the form of COVID relief dollars worked as intended, giving Southeast Alaska an economy to come back to in 2022.
In the first half of the year, the region added 1,100 jobs, and half of the region’s business leaders expect their prospects to be even better or much better next year. Tourists have come back. The number of cruise passengers arriving in the region is on track to be at 8 times higher than 2021 levels, with a record-setting sailing schedule planned for 2023.
Salmon harvest levels are coming in even higher than in 2021. Mining jobs are up by 7% in 2022 so far, and construction jobs are up by 5%.
Two threats are hampering regional recovery: the continued decline of the State sector — down by another 170 jobs in the first half of 2022 for a total decrease of 24% in the last decade — and difficulty attracting workers due to fierce competition nationally and a scarcity of housing within the region.