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Job Growth Expected for Anchorage in 2019

Jan 31, 2019 | Finance, Monitor

And how Instagram, Facebook can help

By Kathryn Mackenzie
Managing Editor, Alaska Business

Left: Chris Fair, president of Resonance Consultancy. Right: Bill Popp, AEDC president/CEO.

Photos courtesy of Resonance Consultancy and Kerry Tasker

Who knew that Instagram could have an effect on whether cities—including Anchorage—are found to be attractive to foreign investors? Or that Facebook check-ins could determine whether a business giant decides to open its newest headquarters in our neck of the woods, creating hundreds of jobs? Chris Fair, president of Resonance Consultancy offered up those insights and many more surprising thoughts at the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s (AEDC) 2019 Economic Forecast Luncheon on January 30.

Keynote speaker Fair and AEDC’s President and CEO Bill Popp both spoke about the economic health of the state’s largest city, how it ranks compared to other cities of its size on a number of factors, and what Anchorage can expect in 2019.

As AEDC plans a new ten year strategic direction focused on improving the city (still in its early planning stages), Popp gave some cautiously optimistic news to the packed crowd at the Dena’ina Center.

“We had many years of positive GDP growth then we saw the foreshadowing of the recession starting in about 2013 that led to four years of significant decline in our gross domestic product. The latest data though, which gives us another reason to think we’re exiting the recession, is a very positive year of GDP growth for the city in 2017… And we think that’s a precursor to the end of the recession,” said Popp, of Anchorage’s $25 billion economy.

“When we look at healthcare, it’s going to go up again, but it’s going to moderate. We can see we’re starting to reach capacities in certain sectors of healthcare and we’re also starting to see the issue of the ability to pay for healthcare,” Popp said.

Meanwhile, transportation should see a small increase in jobs, he said, pointing to a recent report released by AEDC this week and prepared the McDowell Group. The healthcare industry is expected to add 400 jobs; construction and tourism are projected to grow by 200 jobs each, retail should remain flat, and oil and gas should add about 100 jobs in 2019.

Meanwhile, government, professional and business services, and financial activities are forecast to lose jobs.

“We think 2019 is going to mark the end of the four-year recession. We’re feeling reasonably confident that the recession is at its end or near,” Popp concluded. Though he warned that the lack of a state fiscal plan continues to remain as a “pall of uncertainty” to the business community and could keep Anchorage from growing jobs more rapidly.

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The Placemaking Effect

Fair took the stage after Popp to talk about what makes a city desirable to tourists, investors, professionals, and businesses.

Fair is a “placemaking” expert—meaning he and Resonance Consultancy track what attracts tourism, job talent, and investment to a city. The group works on projects to revitalize deteriorating downtowns and how to appeal to needed workers and investors.

“Everywhere from Edinborough to El Paso, the common ingredient is that places are our passion,” said Fair during his presentation.

According to the America’s Best Cities report published by Resonance in partnership with National Geographic, Anchorage doesn’t fare too badly in its category: America’s Top 50 Small Cities (US cities with populations between 200,000 and one million).

The group uses a methodology that takes into account twenty-eight factors, broken into six pillars:

Place—the perceived quality of city’s natural and built environments as well as crime and safety.

Product—a city’s key institutions, attractions, and infrastructure.

Programming—the arts, culture, entertainment, and food scenes in a city.

People—the immigration rate and diversity of a city.

Prosperity—a city’s employment, GDP per capita, and corporate head offices.

Promotion—the number of stores, references, and recommendations shared online (this is where Instagram, Facebook, Google searches, and TripAdvisor reviews come into play).

Of the 163 cities in its category, Anchorage ranks 12th on the list overall. It ranks 7th in the “Place” category; 9th in the “Product” category; and 13th for “Prosperity. It’s the “People” and “Promotion” categories in which the city takes quite a nosedive, ranking 58th and 30th, respectively.

“The more social media buzz happening around these places, the more visitors they’re attracting,” said Fair. The more online buzz a city generates, the more likely it is to attract not only visitors, but investors as well.  

“Your Google Trends score has almost a linear correlation with the number of jobs in foreign enterprises. Are searches rising for your city or not? We can almost predict how many jobs will be added to these cities by foreign enterprises just based on Google Trends scores,” he says.

Another surprise to Resonance was Facebook check-ins, which Fair says one would never think would be aligned with business investments (and therefore jobs) and though Fair’s not saying Facebook check-ins cause investment, he asserts there seems to be an underpinning relationship.

“We shouldn’t expect that those factors that we strive for as city managers and government to create quality of life for our residents, that the outcome of that is not necessarily going to be attracting investment and prosperity for our community,” he says. In other words, infrastructure and jobs are vital, but they don’t necessarily correlate to a thriving city. There are many other factors involved and number one on that list across the board is crime and safety. Something that Anchorage continues to struggle with, according to Popp.

Cities looking to attract talent and investment have to remember to think about the their “lovability” factor because often that’s just as important as the livability and logical factors that the government, businesses, and other invested parties take into account. The same things that make tourists fall in love with your city will drive investment and attract new talent.

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How does Anchorage improve its low scores? By thinking about placemaking—improving social interactions and quality of life. Fair says revitalizing areas of town that are in disrepair can have a huge effect on the city’s overall morale. He pointed to Detroit and a converted plaza with cafes, event space, and even a small beach as one example.

“Placemaking can also be about events,” he says, using an alley behind his office as an example. The alley was painted pink, adorned with basketball hoops, and now hosts a monthly disco party. It also served as the location of a video shoot for a popular Korean band that has prompted the new laneway to become the second most Instagrammed location in the city.

“Things are becoming more informal – we don’t necessarily need grand gestures or giant investments.

Think about how we can make our cities more Instagrammable,” says Fair.

“Increasingly, a city’s reputation or perceived quality of place is determining where talent, tourism, and investment go… these experiential factors are now some of the most important in shaping opinion about the desirability of cities as places to live, visit, and do business.”

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