OPINION: You want to reinvigorate Anchorage? Fix the labor problem.

I am a small business owner here in town. My business depends on employees who have a commitment to food safety, doing things right and showing up. I have to admit, since the pandemic, those kinds of people have been harder and harder to find. There is a tremendous labor shortage in Anchorage. Really, in the whole state.

If you can show up for work on time, ready for work, and have some basic skills, you can write your own ticket in this town. It’s a great time to be on the job market in Alaska. For employers, and for the long-term health of the state, it’s not such a pretty picture.

The labor market is like any other market, economically: When supply exceeds demand, labor is inexpensive. When it is in short supply, it becomes more expensive. And entry-level jobs, like those of starting sprouters, become harder to fill. Frankly, there are jobs that pay more and demand less when there is a labor shortage.

I’m not writing an opinion piece because I have to pay more for entry-level sprout employees. That’s a cost of doing business and ultimately, you will see that in higher prices when you go to your favorite pho restaurant. I’m writing about this because we have an opportunity with a new administration to focus on a new labor policy. We need more people in Alaska if we want to grow this state. While I don’t think the governor’s office is paying attention to this issue, I’m hoping a new mayor will.

There are four things I’m hoping the new mayor focuses on, all of which will make my life easier as an employer: education, housing, quality of life and workforce recruitment. Each of these goals should direct policies that would make people want to move here. They need to be the central focus of any administration.

Education isn’t directly the purview of the mayor — we elect a school board to run our schools. However, and with all due respect to my friends who are educators, our school system needs some serious work. I’m hopeful this education and career academy model works for high schoolers, and I’m looking forward to a later start time, but there is something fundamentally missing in our education system, probably on the expectation side, that makes our kids underperform. As long as our schools underperform, new families will leave the state. Our mayor needs to be a cheerleader and advocate for our school district.

Housing is another area where the mayor doesn’t have a lot of swing. This town is almost impossible to build in, and several mayors have tried unsuccessfully to streamline the building process in Anchorage. We need a policy that prioritizes abundance: What can we do to increase housing? I think whatever options are available, the answer needs to be all of the above. If people can’t afford to buy a home here, how can we expect them to stay?


Quality of life is entirely the purview of the mayor. We have had some great mayors in the past who have worked hard to improve our quality of life: a world-class park and trail system, commitment to the arts, keeping the streets driveable and trash cleared. This is what we expect a mayor to do. The new mayor has some unique challenges — our downtown has been ceded to the homeless, as have many public spaces. People don’t feel connected to Anchorage as a community. Broadway Alaska has shown us that people want a thriving and active downtown. The new mayor needs to make Anchorage welcoming and open for all.

The last issue, workforce development, is a Gordian knot. The last two U.S. presidents have limited immigration because they have seen the positive impact it has had on labor policy. Anybody who wants one can find a job. But they have it backwards: Employers are the driver of growth in our economy. And if we can’t find employees, we can’t grow.

My family moved to the U.S. four generations ago. They lived in the immigrant communities of New York and became part of the labor force that built the garment industry in the U.S. You need cheap labor if you want to make things competitively. That’s not an option for most employers here in town right now. We need to bring more people into this town, for jobs at all levels of the economy. Without that as a focus, we don’t have a growing, thriving city. We will have more boarded-up shops and dilapidated properties.

I want to see amazing things happen in our town. I know that Anchorage is a place where if you have a vision and drive, you can make anything happen. If our new mayor focuses on the things that make people want to live here, build here, and call this place home, we can only see better things. It is a vision I hope we can all get behind. I wish this new mayor luck. She’s got a big hill to climb.

S.J. Klein is owner of Alaska Sprouts, member of the Fairview Community Council, former chair of the Homelessness, Housing and Neighborhood Development Commission, and member of the AMATS Citizens’ Advisory Commission.

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