Business climate survey shows pandemic’s outsize local impact

Southeast Alaska one of the country’s hardest-hit areas

According to a new survey that captures local economic data, the pandemic-induced pause in tourism packed a fierce punch for communities in Southeast Alaska.

Meilani Schijvens, owner of Rain Coast Data, shared the 2021 Business Climate Survey results, the most recent version of the annual survey, with members of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce last Thursday. The survey represents the thoughts of 460 business owners and senior managers throughout Southeast Alaska, including 93 from Juneau. It shows how the suspension of large-deck cruising and other factors affected local and regional businesses.

“The pandemic has impacted Southeast Alaska twice as much as Alaska and three times as much as the rest of the country,” she said, noting that those findings make the region “one of the most affected in the country.”

Overall, Schijvens reported that between May 2019 and May 2021, the region experienced a 17% reduction in jobs. This compares to a 9% loss throughout Alaska and a 5% loss in the United States.

The survey, which was conducted in April, captures point-in-time data and compares it to past economic snapshots, including more historically typical years, such as 2019 and the atypical 2020 COVID-19 pandemic year. It also asks business owners to look forward and share thoughts on the future economic outlook.

Here are some key figures from the report:

Employment and wages

■ Juneau shed 3,500 jobs during the first six months of COVID, a 19% decrease in employment.

■ The visitor industry was the hardest hit, losing 2,100 jobs.

■ Lost jobs represented $39 million in lost wages, including $35 million in lost wages from the visitor sector.

■ State government positions in Juneau decreased by 182 workers. “That’s a number I’m concerned about as they don’t bounce back as easily,” Schijvens said.

Lost revenue and pandemic relief

■ Juneau businesses reported losing 33% of their revenue during the pandemic. Across the region, businesses reported an average loss of 42% of revenue.

■ Juneau-based businesses have received almost $192 million in federal loans and grants to help with pandemic-related losses. Overall, Southeast Alaska’s business community has received $546 million in pandemic relief.

■ About 75% of Juneau’s businesses reported receiving grants or loans. Almost a quarter say they would have closed permanently without the support.

■ In the April survey, 10% of Juneau-based survey respondents reported moderate or significant risk that the “business is at risk of closing permanently because of the impact caused by COVID-19.”

Looking forward

■ In April, 75% of Juneau-based respondents reported a negative view of the overall business climate. By comparison, 84% rated the overall business climate as poor in 2020, but only 42% in 2019.

■ Business owners are generally optimistic about the future of their industries, with 58% of respondents reporting a positive industry outlook. In 2020, only 32% of respondents shared a positive outlook. In 2019, 65% reported industry optimism.

■ In addition, 18% of Juneau-based respondents expressed an intention to add jobs over the next 12 months. In 2020, only 8% of respondents expected to add workers. The 2021 number is more in line with the 2019 number, which showed that 15% of business owners expected to add jobs.

Large cruise ships return

Beginning July 23, large cruise ships will start to return to Southeast Alaska. According to the presentation, Juneau expects:

■ 10 ships

■ 80 voyages across a 12-week season that will end Oct. 20

■ While the total number of passengers is currently unknown, Schijvens predicts between 100,00 and 150,000 total passengers in 2021. “That’s about 10% of normal cruise ship passengers,” she said.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.