Survey of Southeast Alaska business owners indicates sunny economic outlook


JUNEAU — Southeast Alaska business owners are optimistic about the region’s business climate, according to a recently released regional survey.

Rain Coast Data owner and director Meilani Schijvens last Thursday shared results from this year’s Southeast Alaska Business Climate Survey at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Moose Lodge. Schijvens annually oversees the Southeast Conference’s regional business climate survey as a means of tracking Southeast Alaska’s economic status.

She announced that this was the best business climate survey since 2017, with nearly two-thirds (62%) of regional business leaders expressing overall positive outlooks regarding the Southeast Alaska business climate, which is a dramatic increase from just one year ago. Another positive change was that businesses in small rural communities are currently most likely to report their regional economy as “very good.”

Schijvens said the survey results are showing the economic outlook is even better, with half of respondents expecting their prospects to be steadily better or much better over the next year, which Schijvens said is the most positive outlook recorded. The tourism and the food/beverage sector are showing the best economic outlooks as commerce is slowly returning after the pandemic. Communities that are displaying the most positive outlook include Hoonah, Skagway and Sitka.

Another positive result from the survey is that businesses are currently in the hiring phase, with more than a quarter (29%) of regional businesses looking to hire and expecting to add employees over the next year.

The No. 1 problem currently facing Southeast Alaska is housing, according to the survey. Business leaders across the board identified housing as being the top issue that needs to be addressed to advance economic growth in the region. But as Wayne Stevens, president and CEO of United Way Southeast Alaska, pointed out, housing has always been a challenge for the region.

“I moved to Kodiak in 1982 and when you got off the plane people said ‘Where are you going to live? Did you bring your tent?’ Housing is a challenge everywhere in Alaska, it’s particularly poignant because we’re in Juneau,” said Stevens. “If I moved to Juneau today, based on what the ‘taxman’ thinks my house is worth and my salary today, I couldn’t afford to buy the house that I live in. So, it’s a challenge, there are no easy solutions, it’s a myriad of issues that sort of all mesh together, and there’s no one string that I think you can pull that solves the problem.”

[Rental prices for homes and apartments rise in Alaska, led by a sharp spike in Anchorage]

Lastly, the top business barriers and benefits have been identified as remaining the same or similar over time. This year, as was the case in both 2015 and 2010, the region’s quality of life — including recreation, arts and culture — was cited as the region’s biggest benefit by survey respondents.

Similarly, high freight costs, lack of housing and overall high cost of living remain the region’s top business barriers. One interesting side note to this, however, is that when each business sector is looked at individually, the arts are still most likely to call the economy poor to very poor.

Charlotte Truitt, executive director of the Juneau Symphony, said she sees the problem as being temporary and directly in correlation with the lingering effects of coming out of the pandemic.

“This is our first time that we’re able to sell a full season; after the pandemic we had to sell one concert at a time because we didn’t know what would be happening next, and now with the forecast looking optimistic in dealing with COVID, we can now return to season tickets,” Truitt said. “Our product is our art that we do in the community, and we were very successful with having virtual concerts, but there’s nothing like being in person. So, we weren’t able to do our product, and so now that we can get back to doing our bread and butter, big concerts, that’s why we’re hopeful things will turn around.”