Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Construction, health care wages add up


September 30, 2010

Last year, construction in the Haines Borough employed only about one-third as many people as tourism, but it accounted for onethird again as much in local wages, according to the most recent edition of "Alaska Economic Trends," a monthly publication of the state Department of Labor. 

"The borough's construction industry accounted for 18.2 percent of total wages - more than any other industry. This is significant considering that construction represented only 7.5 percent of total employment in 2009," wrote economists Joy Wilkinson, Liz Baron and Rob Krieger. 

Their article, an overview of the community's economy, showed average monthly employment increased "modestly" from 882 jobs in 2001 to about 1,061 in 2007, with slight declines in 2008 and 2009. 

The authors found total wages slipped from 2001 to 2002 ($25 million to $23 million), then climbed considerably, hitting $33 million by 2007, dropping to $30 million in 2008, then rebounding to nearly $33 million in 2009.

"Over the past 10 years, the relatively steady employment," the authors say. "Though relatively small, the Haines Borough has a diverse economy with a mix of industries" including leisure and hospitality, local government, retail, health care, seafood processing and fishing, and construction.

Representing 21 percent of jobs in the borough, tourism is the valley's largest industry in terms of employment, the authors said. It provides 12 percent of wages. Retail provides 15 percent of jobs and 11 percent of wages. Local government provides 15 percent of jobs and 14 percent of wages.

Perhaps surprisingly, health care provides 12 percent of jobs and 11 percent of wages, nearly as much of the valley's wages as tourism, according to the study. "As the population of the borough continues to age, demand for health care services is likely to increase, thus fueling growth in the industry," the report says. 

The article drew no distinction between residential and capital construction and did not break out wage and employment statistics for the fishing industry, lumping it instead with "others." It cited Ocean Beauty Seafoods, which as a fish processing plant at Excursion Inlet, as the borough's largest employer. 

The article describes commercial fishing as an "important contributor" to the borough economy, with more than 80 residents holding fishing permits and earnings of $5.1 million and over 6.1 million pounds of fish landed here.

Lumberyard owner Chip Lende said he's not surprised by the figures for construction wages. Though fewer people work in construction than in tourism, carpenters, plumbers and electricians earn significantly more than tourism workers, and they tend to work six or nine months a year, longer than the tourist season.

Projects funded with cruise ship head tax money may be a part of the construction numbers, Lende said, as well as projects like boat harbor expansion and Lutak Road widening. "You also have a fair amount of contractors building homes, but my guess is a lot of (the state's numbers) is from capital projects."

Lende said a lot of his business relies on construction of retirement and vacation homes, and the state's figures bear that out. "Retirees and older people building vacation homes require health care, and I think they account for a fair amount of retail business as well."

Haines Chamber of Commerce president Karl Heinz said the article's findings jibed with recent information he's heard. "Nothing jumped out at me as being terribly surprising. It's similar to what I've seen put out by other sources such as the Southeast Conference."

Health care, as an industry, has been growing statewide, he said. That Ocean Beauty is the borough's biggest employer would probably be news, he said. "I don't know that most people are aware of that."

The construction numbers are evident in local projects, he said. "Certainly in the past five years there's been a substantial number of projects, the school, HAL... Look at how long Dawson Construction has been in town."

"That money is felt in the community. Those people are spending their paychecks here in town. They're eating out and tipping their waitresses and the waitresses are spending their money. It keeps the money going around in Haines."