Alaska’s exported resources have long been the major source of our state’s economy and identity — fish, oil, minerals and more, all proudly bearing the “produced in Alaska” stamp. However, a troubling new report shines a light on the excessive export of our most valuable resource — our people.
Data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas show that more than half of Alaskans born here have moved away, and the reasons for this outmigration are not hard to figure out.
According to the study, “The share of people born in a state and who stay there can provide an important measure of its attractiveness to workers,” and right now, Alaska ranks third from the bottom. The list shows a strong correlation between population retention and job growth.
We must ask ourselves what we are doing to make Alaska a more attractive place for our sons and daughters, and friends and neighbors to stay, earn a living, raise a family and foster strong communities. In short, what are we doing to create jobs?
The most realistic and practical path for job growth in Alaska starts and ends with our resources. Our oil and gas industry accounts for the largest share of state revenue and is a significant provider of high-paying jobs for Alaskans. “Alaska’s oil and gas industry remains the single most important economic engine in the state,” according to a report by McKinley Research, with each oil and gas job supporting a total of 15 jobs.
There are a couple of bright spots on the horizon big enough to give us hope as Alaskans — the Willow development and the Alaska LNG project. We salute the Biden Administration for taking a hard look at both these projects, measuring their impacts, and ultimately authorizing them based on their merit.
As the world’s energy picture continues to evolve, Alaska LNG is poised to propel our state economy forward. Just as TAPS started a new chapter in Alaska growth and history, Alaska LNG is big and bold enough to transform Alaska and securely position our state as a source of clean, responsibly produced energy for generations.
Project estimates forecast that Alaska LNG will create 10,000 construction jobs and 1,000 new permanent operations positions. In approving Alaska LNG, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission specifically noted the connection between this project, job growth, and Alaska’s population: “The economic activity generated by the Project would expand employment opportunities in Alaska, thereby attracting nonresidents to the state and increasing Alaska’s population.”
What’s more, jobs created by Alaska LNG will have a ripple effect throughout our economy. While oil and gas employment accounts for 16% of Alaska’s private sector jobs, these positions punch above their weight in terms of their compensation, paying 23% of all Alaska wages.
Early in the planning process for Alaska LNG, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. (AGDC) recognized the importance of union labor for ensuring the project’s success. In 2018, AGDC announced an “Alaskans First” hiring framework with Southcentral Alaska Council of Building & Construction Trades, Fairbanks Building & Construction Trades Council, and the Alaska Petroleum Joint Crafts Council, all affiliates of the Alaska AFL-CIO. This agreement ensures that qualified Alaskans will be first in line to construct and operate the project’s major components, and establishes principles for schedules, training, safety, and wages.
These principles are important not only for the safety of the workers who build Alaska LNG and for the reliability of the project, but also for creating the type of durable jobs that will enable Alaska to thrive and grow. Alaska LNG will help support training for a new generation of Alaska builders to master and share the skills we need to preserve the pioneering, can-do spirit unique to Alaska.
Alaska workers have shown time and time again that they can get the job done in the most environmentally sound and safe climates in the world. As our Pacific Rim allies increasingly turn to natural gas to produce dependable, low-emissions energy, Alaska’s workforce and economy also stand to reap the benefits. That’s why I support Alaska LNG and will continue to advocate for its development.
Joelle Hall is president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, served in the U.S. Army, and is a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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