Although Alaska is listed as “balanced” in this study, Atlas’ numbers do show a slight shift towards those moving out of Alaska, rather than moving to Alaska. Upon further analysis, our internal numbers at Alaska Terminals back up these statistics. In 2014, we show internally that 56% of our tonnage moved out of Alaska, leaving 44% moving to Alaska. Thus far in 2015, this number has crept higher, approaching 60% moving outbound. What are we to make of these numbers?
There are likely to be a number of factors that contribute to this imbalance. First, there are the simple economics of moving to and from Alaska. It is costlier to use a full service mover to move to Alaska than it is to move from Alaska. The reason for this cost difference is fairly simple: Nearly every good that is purchased in Alaska is shipped to Alaska from somewhere else. This includes food, clothes, building materials, consumer goods and everything else that money can buy. In order to get to Alaska, the majority of these goods travel over the ocean via an ocean carrier like Totem Ocean Trailer Express or Matson. Because of this, the ships coming to Alaska are quite full. Conversely, the ships leaving Alaska are only partially full, mainly consisting of household goods shipped by movers like us, or retail store returns. This imbalance leads to capacity issues coming to Alaska, and thus, more expensive shipping costs when moving north. Due to this expense, it is likely that more customers considering moving to Alaska will attempt to move themselves than those moving from Alaska. For this reason, it is not atypical for us to see some kind of imbalance in a normal year.
While moving to and from Alaska is often asymmetrical because of the shipping differences, there are some local economic forces that are likely exacerbating the imbalance.
We move many new hires for corporations that are looking to expand in Alaska. One industry that we prominently serve is the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry directly employs many thousands of people in and around the state of Alaska, which isn’t news to anyone familiar with our economy. Over the past year we have noticed a steep drop in the number of employment related moves for large oil companies that we typically service. It is probably safe to assume that this is at least partially due to falling oil prices over the last year. Surely oil companies are giving pause before hiring or relocating employees in an uncertain economic climate.
Finally, we at Alaska Terminals also provide moving services to military members being stationed in Alaska and to those that are being sent out of Alaska. Over the past three years the ratio of military moves going out of Alaska has topped those moving in by a two to one ratio. It was recently announced that 2600 Anchorage based soldiers would be cut in the near future, which would likely further skew this imbalance.
As the ebb and flow of the normal business cycle carries on, we, like everyone else, will be quite interested to see how the demographics of our great state continue to change over time.