With big retail job loss, Anchorage lags in recession recovery
Nordstrom is closing the doors for good at its downtown Anchorage store — the latest of several large retailers to shed its brick and mortar shops in Alaska's largest city. It's a trend that state economists say is slowing Anchorage's employment recovery.
According to a new study by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Anchorage is lagging behind the rest of the state in bouncing back from the 2015 recession. The report calls the number of store closures "unusually large," citing the loss of two Sam's Club stores, a Toys R Us and a Bed Bath & Beyond location as some of the biggest impacts.
While employment in Anchorage was essentially flat towards the end of 2018, it's continued to decline slightly into the summer of 2019, according to economist Neal Fried who authored the report.
"In the rest of the state, retail has either been stable or has actually grown. So, that's what's one of the big contributors to our continued overall losses here in Anchorage," Fried said.
So long, Nordstrom
Fried's figures don't yet account for the jobs lost at Nordstrom.
"I think 2019 will go down as another loss for retail in Anchorage," he said.
On Friday, the story closed its doors for the final time. People shopping there that day said the store will be missed.
Sara Arno was shopping with her daughter Ursula for the very last time.
“I’ve been going here forever, my kids were raised here coming to Nordstrom. I always came. Part of why you came to Anchorage was to go to Nordstrom, because I live in the Valley," she said, adding, "And it’s like an old friend.”
Keegan Caulfield said he also started coming to the store with his mother as a child.
"It’s been around since before I was born so it’s something that’s been a big part of this community for a long time so it’s sad to see it go," he said.
Debra Miller said she’ll be sad to see the store go.
"I’ve lived here for 34 years and [...] it's just an icon for downtown Anchorage and I’m not a huge shopper but when I need something this is where I come, she said."
Oil: North Slope versus Anchorage
Another factor that contributes to Anchorage's lag in recovery, Fried says, is the distribution of oil industry jobs.
"The oil industry started recovering pretty nicely all of last year and continued to in 2019, but almost all those gains were on the North Slope and not here in Anchorage," Fried said.
But, Fried says, there is a silver lining for Anchorage, as many of the North Slope workers live in Anchorage and spend their income in the city.
"So it is a plus for Anchorage, but it's not the plus that we're seeing on the North Slope," Fried said.
As for the state's population, the report finds we're still seeing there are more people leaving Alaska than are coming in.
"There's no doubt that the economy's contributing to some extent to the negative out migration. I think we've had five years of it," Fried said. "But the other big thing is the national economy. It's been expanding for 10 years and we actually start experiencing negative out migration before our recession."
In any case, Fried says the numbers are nowhere near that of the recession Alaska experienced in the 1980s.
"It's a totally different picture," Fried said.
Lauren Maxwell contributed to this report.
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