Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Each year Southeast Conference conducts a regional business climate survey in order to track Southeast Alaska business confidence.
Southeast Conference's Executive Director Robert Venables and Rain Coast Data's Meilani Schijvens presented the findings. It was the first release of the 2023 data and was shared at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of regional business leaders currently have a positive view of the Southeast Alaska business climate, the highest positivity rating since the recording began in 2010.
Schijvens went over highlights.
"When we look at all communities in Southeast, Sitka has the highest positivity. Juneau, we're kind of in the middle and we were doing a little bit more poorly last year. Actually, Juneau's increased positivity sort of brought up the whole region because there's so many of us," she said. "Wrangell sits at the bottom. And what you can see when you sort of look through this is that when you have those cruise ship ports, communities with the large cruise ship ports have the highest positivity rating."
Pelican also had a high positivity rating despite not having large cruise ships coming in.
Wrangell was the only community "underwater" that had a higher poor overall rating than their overall good rating.
Nearly 100 businesses in Juneau responded to the survey out of a total of 370 businesses across Southeast participating. The 370 responding businesses represent 9,500 Southeast Alaska workers.
"Our Alaska Native organizations have the highest positivity rating across all of Southeast Alaska, followed by the Visitor and Tourism sector, Food and Beverage business. And you know, oftentimes we'll put food and beverage in with the tourism. So it makes sense that those two sectors are so closely aligned," Schijvens said. "And at the bottom, we've got only two sectors that have a higher negativity rating than a positivity rating. That's our Seafood sector, we're having some tough times there, and also Transportation Non-Tourism."
Venables added why these kinds of studies are important.
"This type of information and economic planning has been so key for a lot of reasons. Number one, it helps ground truth, what businesses are feeling throughout communities, throughout the regions. Policymakers at the local level, at the state level, at the federal level, use this information to help guide their responses to the community," he said. "We've seen a lot of positive action."
Venables also stated that Southeast Conference values its different strategic partnerships so that the economic development community can work together.
He talked about a Mariculture Initiative to help inform rural communities and communicate with them about their seafood industry and transportation needs. Both Schijvens and Venables expressed excitement about the recent federal funding approved for Alaska's transportation needs across the state. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski has primary authorship and credit for that.
This year Southeast Conference's annual meeting will be Sept. 19-21 in Sitka.
Schijvens compared community outlooks.
"Skagway, Gustavus, Hoonah, Sitka, and Juneau. This is looking forward, people who say it's going to get better or much better. So you see just really strong positive ratings across the board for those who have large cruise ships coming into their communities," she said. "And on the opposite side, the communities that have the most poor outlooks moving forward are Wrangell, Prince of Wales, Petersburg, again, a sort of a similar story- the communities with poor outlooks have small cruise ship ports and seafood ports."
Skagway was at the top of the list looking forward after recovering from their rockslide and lack of tourism over the pandemic.
10% of Southeast business leaders think it's going to get worse or much worse and then 11% say that it's going to be the same, viewing the same as not a good thing. Overall, 21% negative, and 79% positive.
It is the second best outlook ever since 2010.
Businesses are Hiring
30% of employers are hiring.
Another substantial point was that businesses say their 12-month outlook would be positive if they could only find employees.
"They say business is good. Business is good and I can hire people...they're just not locals. The internet works both ways. So now it's easier for people in Juneau to say, I just hired somebody new, they're in Portland, I hired somebody new, they're in Vermont. I can keep my business going," Schijvens explained. "I have more work than I could ever dream of. I've got so much money coming in. That's a positive business outlook. But that struggle to find employees, that doesn't mean the business outlook is negative. It just means that we have too much work for the workers that we have."
More than half of businesses (52%) reported they cannot hire people due to the lack of housing, as well as 51% of Southeast business leaders reported childcare as a factor.
They identified housing and childcare shortages as key reasons for workforce turnover, or workers not being able to take job offers in the first place.
The childcare issue was reported as especially true in Hoonah, Prince of Wales, and Kake.
“The biggest limitation to business growth is housing for employees," a quote reads from the 2023 Climate Business report.
Nearly 230 businesses took additional time to write about their expectations and needs for the upcoming year.
Following housing and childcare as barriers for hiring is the lack of transportation and the cost of transportation.
Key factors resulting in attracting workers and long-term workforce retention include access to recreation, and staff originally from Alaska.
Workers who grew up in Alaska are more likely to stay to work in Alaska.
The third factor in attracting workers is the culture and the arts.
For jobs being added, Alaska Native organizations are at the top, followed by Food and Beverage businesses.
“We see growth in tourism and transportation as the primary factors for job creation," an Alaska Native Organization wrote for the report.
These are the communities hiring the most.
"Everyone in Hoonah is hiring. Two-thirds of their business leaders there that responded say that they're going to be adding jobs over this next year. Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka are all adding jobs at the highest level," she said. "Wrangell, I put them at the top. They don't have the highest job reduction, but they also have an additional 20% say that they just don't know."
Only 6% of businesses across Southeast reported upcoming job cuts. One sector that reported they are having problems leading to job cuts is the timber industry in Yakutat.
Quality of Life
Southeast Alaska is known for its high quality of life ratings.
Among business leaders, the overall quality of life rating is 7.3 out of 10.
Gustavus, Yakutat, and Sitka business leaders give the region the highest ratings, while Kake, Hoonah, and Ketchikan have the lowest rankings.
Those in energy, the construction/architecture/engineering sector, and in nonprofits provide the highest ratings, while those in manufacturing and tourism provide the lowest ratings.
For the whole survey, and to read more quotes from different communities and businesses, go to raincoastdata.com.