Town tops list of self employed


February 9, 2023

Just how entrepreneurial is Haines? Very, according to a new analysis by state researchers.

The Haines Borough has one of the highest levels of self-employed workers in Alaska, according to state labor department researchers.

Almost one in two workers in Haines, or about 45% of its workforce, is self-employed, one dataset analyzed by state researchers shows. Haines is tied for third for the highest ratio of nonemployers, or people who own a business without paid employees, according to another dataset.

“It just makes a lot of sense,” said Neal Fried, economist at the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “Haines doesn’t have a lot of government. It has a lot of visitors. Tourism is fairly important, but it’s not industrial-style tourism,” Fried added.

Because Haines is so small, the numbers could be a little off, Fried warned. For example, Haines ranked above Petersburg, the borough with the second highest percentage of self-employed workers, by 30 percentage points (45% to 15%).

“That is suspicious looking,” Fried said. “But what it reinforces, I think, is that the self-employed workforce is large.”

A different dataset shows Bristol Bay, Yakutat and Petersburg ahead of Haines in terms of the number of businesses with no employees — per capita. Haines is tied with Sitka, Dillingham and the Lake and Peninsula Borough on that list, with a ratio of one nonemployer for every six people. Bristol Bay and Petersburg are tied for first with a one-to-four ratio, according to this month’s Alaska Economic Trends report.

Haines ranks well above the statewide average in both datasets. Statewide there is one nonemployer for every 11 people, and about 8% of the state’s workforce is self-employed, Fried said.

“While the shortcomings make it harder to detail long-term changes in Alaska’s self-employed workforce, the data suggest their share of the total workforce hasn’t changed much over the last few decades — but the type of work has,” Fried and state research analyst Liz Brooks wrote in the trends report. “For example, the number of travel agents has dwindled to near zero, replaced by occupations such as ride-share drivers.”

The industry with the most self-employed workers statewide is fishing. Small-scale tourism in Haines also might bump up its numbers.

“In a lot of communities tied to fish (and) smaller communities tied to tourism, you have high self-employed (rates),” Fried said.

Real estate, construction and professional and business service industries also tend to have higher levels of self-employment, according to the trends report. And older people are more likely than younger to work for themselves, the report said.

“In this case, older people have had more time to accumulate the skills and capital necessary to go into business,” Fried and Brooks wrote.

There also is a gender gap: More men than women are self-employed statewide, the researchers found.

“About 62% of Alaska’s self-employed are men, and 38% are women. For comparison, women make up 45% of Alaska’s total workers,” Fried and Brooks wrote.

One example of Haines’ entrepreneurial spirit is its success in Spruce Root’s regional Path to Prosperity business competition, which Costa Brava Bakery & Patisserie owner Rebecca Kameika won this year.

Haines awardees account for about 20% of the winners since the first competition in 2012.

“I think we’ve got a lot of creative, talented and quirky people in this town,” said Robert Chadwell, who started a syrup- and spice-making business, Adventure Harvest, in 2020 with Tawny Darling. After making it to the Path to Prosperity finals last year, the duo opened a retail shop in town, The Beach Rose.

“A lot of people (here) want to make something of their own,” Chadwell added. “(Haines) lends itself to creative people.”


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