By 2013 Sitka’s population exceeded highs reached during the pulp mill era, driven by strong federal and state employment. “But we’ve dropped off a cliff since then,” according to SEDA director Garry White. “We’re losing our workforce-age folks and becoming a more mature community.” (Crescent Harbor, Flickr photo/Kool Kats)

Sitka’s economy isn’t looking all that great right now — but this isn’t the first time the community’s suffered a dip.

The Sitka Economic Development Association will paint a broad picture of the community’s economy Wednesday afternoon, April 24, at 3 p.m. in Harrigan Centennial Hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

SEDA is bringing over analyst Jim Calvin, with the Juneau-based research firm the McDowell Group, to present on the State of Sitka’s Economy.

SEDA has given the presentation every year since 1998 — but this is the first time in six years that it’s brought in a professional economist to run the numbers, plus review the results of last month’s business survey, which had over 100 responses.

SEDA executive director Garry White spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about what attendees can expect to hear Wednesday afternoon.

White – There’s a lot of not-stellar news out there right now. And so we thought that bringing somebody over who does this for a living and taking a look at it was warranted this year. Frankly, last year I had people say “Garry, you’re giving us negative information.” And my response was, “I’m pulling data, and the data doesn’t look good.” We’re seeing cuts in federal and state employment. And if you look at is as dollars flowing into the community, that’s payroll —  our Forest Service workers, Coast Guard, folks who work at the state — that’s a paycheck that comes into our community and gets spent at the grocery stores and retail shops. That’s a positive thing for us. Something else that we’ve been noticing as well is that over time, the revenue that comes into town — you know, back in the eighties a lot of that was from earned revenue, paychecks, 1099s and W2s. That percentage has dropped off quite a bit, and we’re seeing more money come in through retirement accounts and investments. So what we’re seeing is that there are not as many wage earners as there used to be.

KCAW – And that’s confirmed by things that we’re hearing in other venues: The Sitka School District is down 50 students. That means families.

White – Right.

KCAW – And families are generally in that wage-earner category.

White – We saw a big drop in population obviously when the mill shut down, then we bounced back up. We saw a drop-off in 2007 when Sheldon Jackson closed. And then we built back up. And in 2013 we got above the population when the mill was operating. And now we’ve basically fallen off a cliff since 2014. You can see that in the population trends and in school district enrollment. And what also is happening: We’re getting older. We’re losing our workforce-age folks and we’re becoming a more mature community.

White says that the news at Wednesday afternoon’s presentation will have some positive content. Sitka’s cruise ship tourism is climbing back to pre-recession levels, and fishing — despite challenges in the Pacific Salmon Treaty and herring fishery — remains a bright spot in the economy.