2012 was another year of population growth in Southeast Alaska. In fact, the numbers of people living in the region reached an all-time high.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
The Department of Labor estimates the state’s population has grown by a little more than three percent in the past two years, gaining more than 22-thousand people. In the Southeast region, the growth rate was closer to four percent. Southeast gained nearly 28-hundred people over that time.
“Southeast has been gaining population over the past couple of years,” said state demographer Eddie Hunsinger. “This last year, ’11-12, there wasn’t as much gain as there was between ’10-11. But they have been having some population gains and they’ve been gaining in the past year and that’s more than they did at all over the previous decade, the 2000s, many of the Southeast region communities lost population. So any of the gains are a little bit different then we’ve seen in the previous decade.”
The estimate for Southeast is 74,423 people. That’s the highest it’s ever been. The region’s largest population growth has been in the city and borough of Juneau, which gained more than 15-hundred people in the past two years. The increases are attributed to natural growth, more births than deaths, as well as new people moving into Southeast.
Hunsinger notes the gains are not limited to just the largest communities. “Well Hoonah Angoon had a little bit more growth than they did, between 11 and 12 than they did between 10 and 11,” he said. “Most of the boroughs and census areas in Southeast Alaska, sort of the subparts of the region still gained between 11 and 12 but not quite as much as 10 and 11.”
The Haines borough gained 112 people in the past two years. Ketchikan’s borough gained 461 people. The Prince of Wales and Hyder census area increased by 212. The city and borough of Sitka is up 203 people and Wrangell’s borough increased by 79 in that time. The Petersburg census area, which includes Petersburg Kake and Kupreanof increased 122 people in two years. The only areas seeing declines in the past two years were Skagway and Yakutat.
Meilani Schijvens with the Juneau-based consulting firm Sheinberg Associates pointed out the region’s numbers have been rising since 2007. “The story that has been told about Southeast Alaska is that we’ve been, we’re having downward trends, we’re losing population. And when you look at the numbers now you see that’s not true anymore,” Schijvens said. “We ended that in 2007 and 2012 was our top population year ever in the history of the region. If you’re looking at the numbers as a whole, it really tells a different story of what we are now and where we’re headed as a region now.”
The late 90s and early 2000s saw a loss of timber jobs in Southeast, falling salmon prices and other economic factors combined to drop the region’s population. Schijvens said several factors have reversed that trend including record high prices for minerals, the opening of the Kensington mine and other mining exploration has boosted employment opportunities in Southeast.
She also pointed out Alaska is enjoying a relatively low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country. “When we have difficult times with the economy nationwide people come to Alaska looking for jobs,” Schijvens said. “And really what we see in terms of that in-migration is that half of that in-migration are coming from out of state. And if we kind of dig into who those people are using the American community survey we see that on average those arriving from out of state tend to be young, single and highly educated and really not finding employment opportunities down south and so moving up here. So those lower unemployment rates definitely help us in terms of being able to attract people to the region.”
Schijvens believes the region’s population growth will slow because of housing shortages in some communities for the new arrivals, an improving national economy and uncertain future for mineral prices.
Sheinberg Associates publishes a report on economic and population trends called Southeast by the Numbers, for the Southeast Conference, a group of communities and businesses.
“Well I think the opportunity in Southeast Alaska is coming around again,” said Shelly Wright, the regional organization’s executive director. “We have a lot of opportunity in the fishing industry, the mining industry is certainly on the upswing. I think there’s a desire for people to come home to be part of the community they came from and I think people are finding ways to do that.”
The Department of Labor’s estimates are based on a count of permanent fund dividend applications and other data.
While the Petersburg census area is up as a whole, the population within the former city limits actually decreased in 2012, down 24 people from the year before. The state’s estimate for 2012 is 2,972 for the old city of Petersburg.