Popp: Recession end depends on budget fix

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 10:49
  • Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp gives a presentation on the Anchorage economy during the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce biweekly lunch forum on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at the Matanuska Alehouse in Eagle River. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

One year ago, Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp told the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce that the Alaska economy was on the verge of coming out of a recession.

That’s still the case. Maybe.

Popp told the chamber last week that he still believes that Alaska economy is on the upswing, but said uncertainty over the state’s budget situation makes forecasting the future even trickier than normal.

“We think it’s going to be the end of the recession — depending on what happens in Juneau,” he said.

Popp said economists estimate if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget were enacted as proposed it would cost the state at least 1,600 jobs statewide. Though he acknowledged the cuts aren’t likely to be that dramatic, for a state reeling from 12,000 job losses over the last three years would hurt.

“We’ve got some work to do,” he said.

Popp said AEDC is recommending the Legislature pass a budget that includes a mix of cuts, new revenue and use of the Permanent Fund. He said AEDC believes a broad-based plan is the best course forward.

“That’s my message from my board of directors,” he said.

In addition to giving his best guess as to where the state is heading in 2019, Popp also shared some numbers from the previous year. He said Anchorage lost 1,000 jobs in 2018, with the bulk of those coming from the professional and business services and retail sectors. The Anchorage population was down slightly he said, but the housing market appears strong.

One thing AEDC is seeing nationally is a strong trend toward companies moving where the skilled workers are. That’s a problem for Anchorage, he said, where skilled workers are in short supply. Because of that dynamic, Popp said his organization has “pivoted” to focus more on improving the city’s attractiveness by finding ways to built the pool of skilled labor.

“We’ve got a lot going on in Anchorage, but we’ve got a lot to work on,” he said.

Popp said there’s plenty of reasons for optimism, and said the group’s annual “business confidence index” survey showed Anchorage business owners agree.

“It was a definite turn to the optimistic,” said Popp, who said the survey showed overall confidence in the economy up from 51.3 percent in 2018 to 58.2 percent this year — the highest since 2014.

“There’s a definite change in attitude,” he said.

No matter how people feel about the budget, Popp said one thing is clear: Anyone with an opinion needs to speak up and try to find solutions.

“Now is not the time to be on the sidelines,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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