At the mention of Alaska my thoughts travel straight back to Jack London’s classic story of the tundra “Call of the Wild”. In my mind’s eye, I can see the snow covered hills, rugged terrain, frozen glaciers and wild rivers. And Buck, the dog.
As far as I know, these things still exist in Alaska (well, maybe not Buck), but as a modern state and a member of this country, many things are also different. Roughly, 740,000 folks call Alaska home and even though they are separate from the US mainland, their financial survival is highly dependent on the contiguous 48 states.
How do Alaskans earn a living today? According to the University of Alaska, the top 5 employers in Alaska are as follows:
5. The Lumber Industry
The state of Alaska has millions of acres of timbered land, 130 million acres to be exact. Lumber remains a big business, even though things have declined a bit in the past decade or so. The Alaska lumber industry produces shingles, lumber for the construction industry, and railroad ties.
About 500 Alaskans are regularly employed in the lumber industry, with some seasonal fluctuations during wood harvesting. As a result of the decline in the lumber industry, Alaskans have begun to explore specialty and niche areas for their timber. They are starting to make inroads into that market, but progress has been slow to start. In the recent past, revenue from Alaska’s timber industry stood at about $165 million dollars with a payroll of about $22 million dollars.
4. The Mining Industry
The Mining Industry, aka Mineral Exploration and Development, ranks #4 as an employer. And yes, a gold rush still exists at places like the Donlin Gold project and the Fort Knox Mine. Silver, lead, copper and zinc are also mined in Alaska. Alaska’s mining industry has grown despite the worldwide slowdown, and the state has invested resources into wider mineral exploration.
There are about 4,100 jobs directly related to mining, but if ancillary employment that is related to mining is added in, the number almost doubles to 8,000. The export value for minerals stands at about $2 billion dollars, and the payroll is estimated at $600 million dollars.
3. Fishing Industry
If you order fish from a restaurant menu, there is about a 50% chance that it came from Alaska. Yes, Alaska supplies more than half of all the fish consumed in the US. Who doesn’t love Alaskan King Crab legs or Alaskan Salmon? And we’re not talking about fish farms. The seafood from Alaska is wild, making it a sustainable, natural product. The industry employs around 8,000 workers full time, most of whom live in Alaska, but the number can swell to almost 60,000 seasonally.
Coastal communities are dependent on the fishing industry and the subsequent processing plants and ancillary jobs that are related to it. The seafood trade provides economic stability for the outlying, coastal regions of Alaska. Alaskans hauled in about 6 billion pounds of seafood, valued at $1.9 billion dollars. That is a lot of fish!