Southeast Alaska: resilient in tough times.

Author:Barbour, Tracy
Position::State overview


Southeast is like no other region in Alaska. Commonly referred to as the panhandle, Southeast is a vast expanse of glacier-forged fjords and islands covered with dense rainforest.

Geographically, the region lies west of the northern half of the Canadian province of British Columbia and includes the islands of Admiralty, Chicag of, Baranof, Kuprenof, Revillagigedo and Prince of Wales. Southeast communities include Juneau, Sitka, Haines, Prince of Wales, Yakutat, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg.

Much of Southeast sits within the Tongass National Forest, the United States' largest national forest and Earth's largest remaining temperate rainforest. The forest is named for the Tongass group of the Tlingit people, who inhabited what is now Ketchikan. Today, a number of Alaska Native tribes live throughout Southeast, such as the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. The region's total population is about 70,000.


Southeast Alaska has a diverse economy that is tied to four major drivers: fishing, tourism, mining and government. Despite its economic diversity, last year was a tough time for the region.

The Southeast lost about 750 jobs in 2009, due in large part to the nation's deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression, according to a January Alaska Economic Trends report by Alaska Department of Labor Economist Joy Wilkinson. That was a 2 percent decline--the largest drop in at least 35 years. The second-largest decline during those years was in 1998, when Southeast lost about 650 jobs, a year after Ketchikan Pulp Co. closed its mill.

However, the Southeast's job losses were mild compared to what the country as a whole has experienced, Wilkinson said in the report. She added: "Through the first 11 months of 2009, the U.S. job count was down by 3.8 percent over the year--a percentage loss that was almost twice as high as Southeast."

In a March interview, Wilkinson expressed ambivalence over the Southeast's decline in jobs. "It's surprising because of the magnitude," she said. "At the same time, it's not too surprising because we have a recession."

The Southeast's retail, tourism, and leisure and hospitality industries were among those hardest hit in 2009. Some 500 jobs were lost in retail trade and leisure and hospitality that year, according to Wilkinson. The retail industry alone lost 250 jobs for a 5.3 drop--the steepest decline since 2001. Consequently, Juneau's revenue declined 10.2 percent during the first three quarters; Skagway's declined 8 percent.

At the same time, some industries--like health care and fishing--gained jobs. But not all jobs are created equal, according to Wilkinson. "Some industries, like mining, logging and construction provide fewer jobs, but those jobs pay...

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