The Last Frontier is a top choice for job seekers. Alaska’s unemployment rate is only 6.5 percent, compared with the national average of 7.3 percent. NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best borough for job seekers in Alaska, and we did that by asking the following questions:
- Is the borough growing? We assessed growth in the working-age population, ages 16 or older, from 2009 to 2011 to ensure that the borough was attracting workers and exhibiting a trend of population growth.
- Can you afford to live in the borough comfortably? We measured a borough’s median household income to see if workers made a good living. We also analyzed the monthly homeowner costs, including mortgage payments, to see if the borough had a reasonable cost of living.
- Are most people employed? We looked at the unemployment rate.
The Best Places in Alaska for Job Seekers
1. North Slope Borough
North Slope is the northernmost borough in Alaska. The borough is home to many national parks, including Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gates of the Arctic National Park. The borough saw 29.2 percent growth in the working-age population between 2009 and 2011, and households earned a median income of $76,667. The borough seat is Barrow, the northernmost city in the U.S., as well as the largest city in the borough. Barrow is home to the headquarters of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Prudhoe Bay is in North Slope Borough and is home to the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, the largest oil field in the U.S., which employs many seasonal workers in the winter.
2. Sitka City and Borough
Sitka City and Borough is on Baranof Island and half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago in southeastern Alaska. The borough is home to Sitka National Historical Park and Mount Edgecumbe, a 3,200-foot dormant volcano that can be seen from Sitka. The borough saw a 2.8 percent growth in the working-age population between 2009 and 2011, and the unemployment rate was only 3.9 percent. Major employers in Sitka include Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Sitka Community Hospital and Hames Corporation. The Sitka Economic Development Association is fostering a healthy business climate to promote and expand local businesses to enhance the quality of life for Sitkans.
3. Anchorage Municipality
The Anchorage Municipality is in south-central Alaska and is the largest city in the state. The National Civic League has named Anchorage an All-America City four times: in 1956, 1965, 1984-85 and 2002. The municipality’s households earned a median income of $75,485, while its unemployment rate was only 4.8 percent. Top employers in Anchorage include the state government, the University of Alaska and Providence Health & Services. Anchorage is home to the Technology Research & Development Center, which helps small businesses and entrepreneurs develop new products and services for research.
4. Matanuska-Susitna Borough
The Matanuska-Sustina Borough (MSB) is located north of Anchorage in south-central Alaska. Its borough seat is Palmer, while its largest city is Wasilla. The borough is home to Denali National Park and Lake Clark National Park. MSB saw 4.1 percent growth in the working-age population between 2009 and 2011, and its households earned a median income of $70,343. The borough’s top employers include Forsythe Transportation, Walmart and Palmer-Wasilla Health System, LLC. MSB’s economic-development office is focusing on building the tourism, healthcare and education industries to boost the region’s economy.
5. Juneau City and Borough
Juneau City and Borough is in southeastern Alaska, on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaska panhandle. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is one of the largest cities in the U.S. by area – the borough is larger than Rhode Island. Juneau’s households earned a median income of $77,465, while its unemployment rate has stayed low at 4.0 percent. The city’s largest employers include the state government, Bartlett Regional Hospital and the University of Alaska Southeast. Juneau is home to a branch of the Alaska Small Business Development Center, hosted by the University of Alaska, which provides industry expertise to emerging businesses to boost the area’s economy.
6. Kodiak Island Borough
Kodiak Island is in southern Alaska and is known for its unique wildlife and natural scenery. Known as Alaska’s Emerald Isle, Kodiak is home to the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Kodiak saw a working-age population growth of 3.1 percent between 2009 and 2011, and its unemployment rate was a low 4.2 percent. Kodiak is known for its commercial fishing, with top employers such as Kodiak Seafood, Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafood. Kodiak is home to a branch of the Alaska Job Center Network, which provides workshops, job training and other labor-market information to help job seekers find employment.
7. Kenai Peninsula Borough
Located in south-central Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula is home to the Kenai Fjords National Park and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The borough seat is Soldotna, and its largest cities are Kenai and Homer. Between 2009 and 2011, the borough saw 3.9 percent growth in the working-age population, and its residents have one of the lowest costs of living, at just $1,463 in monthly homeowner expenses. Kenai’s top employers include Central Peninsula General Hospital, Safeway and ASRC Energy Services. Kenai Peninsula College offers career services for its students, alumni and local residents, including how to obtain career counseling, find internship opportunities and write effective cover letters and resumes.
8. Valdez-Cordova Census Area
Valdez-Cordova is an unorganized borough in southern Alaska, east of Anchorage. The borough is home to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Chugach National Forest and Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The borough’s households earned a median income of $62,238, and its unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. The city of Valdez is a point on the Alaska Marine Highway System and is home to the Valdez Marine Terminal, while the city of Cordova’s largest employers are Trident Seafoods and Cordova Community Medical Center. Also, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a facility in the region.
9. Ketchikan Gateway Borough
Ketchikan Gateway Borough is in southeastern Alaska and is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World.” The borough is home to Misty Fjords National Monument, a major tourist attraction, as well as the world’s largest collection of totem poles, which can be seen throughout the city and surrounding parks. Ketchikan Gateway Borough saw a 3.9 percent growth in the working-age population between 2009 and 2011, and its unemployment rate was 4.2 percent. Ketchikan’s top employers include PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, Williams Inc. and Alaska Ship & Drydock. The University of Alaska Southeast has a campus in Ketchikan that provides career services for students such as resume and interview help, career workshops and access to internships.
10. Fairbanks North Star Borough
Fairbanks North Star Borough is in central Alaska and is home to Fairbanks, the second-most populous city in Alaska, after Anchorage. The borough is also home to the city of North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base. The borough’s households earned a median income of $68,922, while its unemployment rate was 5.1 percent. Top employers in Fairbanks include the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Banner Health and Fairbanks Gold Mining Inc. The University of Alaska Fairbanks provides a career center for its students, alumni, staff and faculty. The career center has resources for job-searching assistance, career development and other job skills.
|Rank||Borough||Largest City in Borough||Working-Age Population Change (2009 to 2011)||Median Household Income (2011)||Monthly Homeowner Costs (2011)||Unemployment Rate (2013)||Overall Score|
|1||North Slope Borough||Barrow||29.2%||$76,667||$1,143||4.9%||91.6|
|2||Sitka City and Borough||Sitka||2.8%||$69,798||$1,898||3.9%||57.8|
|5||Juneau City and Borough||Juneau||1.3%||$77,465||$2,176||4.0%||56.3|
|6||Kodiak Island Borough||Kodiak||3.1%||$66,326||$2,034||4.2%||54.7|
|7||Kenai Peninsula Borough||Kenai, Homer||3.9%||$59,256||$1,463||6.1%||54.6|
|8||Valdez-Cordova Census Area||Valdez, Cordova||0.9%||$62,238||$1,438||5.6%||54.2|
|9||Ketchikan Gateway Borough||Ketchikan||3.9%||$57,243||$1,820||4.2%||54.1|
|10||Fairbanks North Star Borough||Fairbanks||-0.5%||$68,922||$1,853||5.1%||52.3|
The overall score for each county was derived from the following measures:
- Population change from 2009 to 2011 from the U.S. Census (2009 and 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS))
- Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, half-weighted)
- Monthly homeowner costs with mortgage payments from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, half-weighted)
- Unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013)
21 boroughs and equivalent census areas determined by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only boroughs with populations over 6,000 were considered.
Photo Credit: Downtown Anchorage by Andrei Taranchenko