The mining industry plays an important role in the economy of more than seventy communities throughout the state. Whether the mines produce zinc, lead, coal, gravel, silver, or gold, the direct and indirect financial impacts on the surrounding area are significant, according to a McDowell Group report commissioned by the Alaska Mining Association.
"The most important impacts are related first to the jobs and the wages that a mine creates," McDowell Group Senior Vice President Jim Calvin says.
"Mines are fairly labor intensive; they will typically employ several hundred workers. And mines are also often among the largest employers in terms of headcount and total payroll over the course of a year."
Alaska mines created $740 million in direct and indirect payroll in 2019, according to the report.
"Mining jobs are one of the more lucrative jobs in the state. It is basically second to only oil and gas," says Sara Teel, a state economist focused on labor and workforce development. "They pay very well. There's just not as many of them. The mining industry doesn't have the same amount of jobs when compared to oil and gas or bigger industries like retail or tourism."
Coming in at $112,800, the estimated average annual wage for those working in the mining industry is more than twice the state average of all other sectors of the economy.
"They are paid very well, and there's a number of reasons for it. I mean you will definitely have to be in a situation where you can work the kind of schedule that you would have to work in the industry: the two weeks on/two weeks off, something like that with rotations. Plus, you're going to be going to remote locations. And there's some danger inherent with mining, of course," Teel says.
The entire industry provided only 4,600 direct jobs in 2019, according to the McDowell report. The majority of these jobs were associated with metal mining.
Though the employment numbers for the metal mining industry remain low in comparison to employment overall, there has been a steady increase in the number of jobs created.
"From 2008 to 2017, metal mining employment grew 36 percent and its wages rose 44 percent. This was in stark contrast to Alaska's total employment, which grew just 2 percent while total wages rose 5 percent," according to Teel's report Metal Mining in Alaska: Small, high-value industry with a long history here is growing.
Despite this significant increase, metal mining only comprised 0.8 percent of Alaska jobs by 2017. Employment in gold mining saw the most growth (45 percent) from 2008 to 2017 with the biggest bump coming between 2009 and 2012, according to Teel's report. Other metal mining jobs rose more steadily at a rate of 24 percent.
Alaska ranked fifth out of ninety-one global regions for mineral potential in 2017 and tenth for overall...