The Skagway economy has evolved over the years to best reflect the strong economic sectors that are the life’s blood of the community. Skagway’s history as the major transshipment port in the Upper Lynn Canal continues today.
Skagway’s historic significance and natural beauty now attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Skagway’s seasonal tourism-based economy is very strong and growing. The visitor industry is the most important segment of Skagway’s economy, providing most of the business income, employment and government revenue. The economy is robust between May and September- the peak tourist season and yet continues to grow in the off-season months. As the number of visitors continues increasing many successful businesses have developed and thrived, attracting seasonal resident business owners. In addition to employing most year round residents, Skagway businesses attract many out-of-area seasonal workers to fill a variety of seasonal jobs necessary to support Skagway’s visitors. As a result, the population almost triples in size during the tourist season.
The volume of visitors has increased dramatically over the past thirty years. In 1983, summer visits to Skagway numbered 164,000. During the 2013 season, there were over one million visits to Skagway by cruise ship passengers and crew, highway arrivals, state ferry, train, water taxi and air taxi visits. This adds up to an economy that in 2013 generated over $110 million in taxable revenue.
The public sector is the next biggest segment of the Skagway economy. The National Park Service, City of Skagway, Skagway City School District, Dept. Of Homeland Security, and the Alaska Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities make up the large public sector which represents close to 30% of the year round employees.
In addition to the visitor industry, a small transportation sector provides an important economic sector. Transshipment of goods to and from the Yukon continues to be an important part of the economy. Although, the Yukon economy has declined somewhat with the closure of several mines, other sectors of the Yukon economy are continuing to expand. This expansion will create an increased demand for goods that are being transported from the US and Vancouver BC.
The economy of Skagway is on an upward swing as more people are staying in the community during the winter months, expansion of the Skagway port continues, and Skagway is well placed to benefit from the construction of a natural gas pipeline, railroad, and fiber optic cable corridor linking Alaska and Canada which will pass through Whitehorse, YT with potential spurs to Skagway. There is a concerted effort by the Yukon Government to expand the freight capacity of the Whitehorse International Airport. This will increase it’s position as a regional freight hub as there are already direct links to Canadian regional cities and Frankfurt, Germany. The Skagway Development Corporation, City of Skagway, and Yukon Government are working closely to promote this link which will open new market opportunities and will be a boon to the fishing industry of northern Southeast Alaska.
Skagway’s winter economy continues to expand in leaps and bounds. Employment figures for winter months (October – April) show increases for every month from 2000 to 2005 – up to 22%. This is most likely attributable to the construction industry which is very busy in the winter meeting the growing demand for retail space in the commercial district.
As Skagway’s summer tourist season strengthens and stabilizes, more people are finding that Skagway has much to offer in the off season (Oct-Apr). There is a growing trend today of people seeking balance in their lives. Skagway has the advantage of providing a strong economy whereby a living can be made while at the same time there is ample opportunity to spend time with family, friends, participate in recreational activities, all in a low-stress environment.
The City government is currently negotiating with federal and state agencies to finalize the conveyance of the remaining 7000 acres of Skagway’s entitlement land. The first 930 acres will be conveyed in 2006 with an ensuing land sale in 2007 and 2008. This will open a significant amount of quality residential sites, hopefully easing the pressure on housing and stabilizing housing prices.
Within the next few years it is expected that almost 80 acres of prime light industrial, commercial, and residential land will also be available as the remediation of the old tank farm is completed. Much of this land has highway frontage and is within 1.5 miles of downtown.
The expanding public sector is providing diversification and stabilization of the year round economy. Increasing opportunities on the waterfront, a natural gas pipeline being discussed at the state level, and expanding transshipment opportunities are signs that Skagway has a lot of room for growth. Skagway’s future is bright and currently provides opportunities for the continued expansion and well being of the business community.