A majority of respondents ranked Haines’ business climate as “good” in this year’s Southeast Alaska Business Climate Survey, which recorded the most optimism among the region’s business leaders since 2017.

Haines also was one of three Southeast communities the survey highlighted for having especially optimistic outlooks on job growth. But local respondents’ perception of quality of life fell slightly short of the regionwide average.

The study’s findings represent a dramatic improvement from the past few years, both regionally and locally. Whereas last year 80% of total respondents called Southeast Alaska’s business climate “poor” or “very poor,” this year 62% reported a positive view about the economy and its prospects.

The same trend appeared in Haines-specific data. Last year 82% of Haines respondents called the business climate “poor” or “very poor,” with 47% calling it “very poor”; this year only 5% called the climate “very poor,” and 28% said it was “poor” or “very poor.”

The future looks even brighter, according to the survey results: 79% of respondents regionwide expressed a positive outlook for the next year, compared to only 49% last year. Small rural communities expressed especially positive feelings, the report said.

The 2022 survey was sponsored by the Southeast Conference and administered and analyzed by Juneau-based Rain Coast Data, which published results on its website last week. Responses were collected from 440 Southeast business leaders in April and May of this year.

Twenty-three of these businesses were from Haines. Haines’ responses generally tracked with the rest of the region: 59% of respondents ranked the business climate as good, 23% said it was poor, and 5% said it was very poor.

Petersburg, Skagway and Sitka business leaders reported more optimistic outlooks than Haines, whereas Juneau and Wrangell reported less optimism.

The report also showed optimism for future hiring: 29% of businesses throughout the region said they are hiring and expect to add employees in the next 12 months; only 5% of respondents said they anticipated reducing jobs. Haines, Gustavus and Sitka were highlighted for unusually high numbers of businesses anticipating job growth.

Beyond tracking business leaders’ general feelings about the economy, the survey also collects data on the greatest perceived barriers to — and benefits of — doing business in Southeast. Lack of housing and cost of freight were the most often-mentioned barriers. Rain Coast Data director Meilani Schijvens said these have been consistent since the survey’s inception in 2010.

However, some factors have changed over time: 17% more respondents than last year mentioned “availability of workforce” as a barrier to business.

The most significant benefit of running a business in Southeast is “quality of life,” according to the report. Haines respondents rated quality of life slightly lower than average, giving 6.9 points out of 10 compared to an overall average of 7.2.

Schijvens expressed surprise at the survey’s results. “I didn’t expect it to be this optimistic and positive,” she said. “You hear so much about inflation and recession and these things, (but) it really is a very, very positive overall current business climate.”

She said the results from the Rain Coast survey will be included in a statewide study being conducted by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development in collaboration with the University of Alaska’s Center for Economic Development.