One of the many ways ECoNA measures the state of our regional economy is looking at amounts of jobs in the annual wage survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for our area. Digging into those numbers can reveal trends that affect everything from wage expectations to housing needs.
The 2017 numbers came out a few weeks ago and in looking at the numbers for the pasts five years, you can see how what’s often called the “gig economy” is impacting Flagstaff and the surrounding area.
According to BLS reports, management jobs jumped 49 percent since 2012, from 1,340 positions to 2,740. Now since we didn’t have a 49 percent internal growth in new businesses during those years, the inescapable conclusion is that this was the result of an inward migration of people who essentially brought their jobs with them, either as telecommuting employees, small entrepreneurs or gig economy workers.
That’s backed up by U.S. Census data that shows that rural communities like ours, with abundant cultural and recreational opportunities, are quickly growing as technology makes it easier to work from anywhere.
This is important news for Flagstaff, as these new jobs tend to be low-impact (for example, not huge factories) yet bring higher wages. The numbers indicate we are transforming into a hub for gig workers, independent contractors, and employees of places like Silicon Valley who are choosing Flagstaff and bringing their wealth with them.
The numbers also indicate that Northern Arizona University may have less to do with our housing crunch than previously thought. Overall job growth in Flagstaff and the surrounding area was about 5,160 from 2012 to 2017. During that same time, the increase at NAU’s mountain campus was almost half that.
Estimates show that an ever larger portion of our workforce will be involved in the gig economy and telecommuting in the future. That’s why it’s important that our policymakers focus on solutions around infrastructure and housing, not only to support this growing sector but to ensure that inward migration doesn’t come at the expense of other jobholders, like public safety and service sector personnel.