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Alaska economy is a set of human and social activities and institutions related to the production, distribution, exchange and consumption of agriculture and industry goods and services. The balance between Alaska various economic sectors differs largely between various regions and other states in the US.
Alaska's real gross state product in 2012 was estimated to be $44,732 which was $142,708 and 76% lower than the national state average, $187,440. Alaska has the 45th highest GSP out of the 50 states.
One unusual part of Alaska's economy is the number of residents who live by "subsistence," or by hunting, fishing, and finding their own food in
"the bush" (the vast, rural portions of the state). Outside of the city of Anchorage, as many as 85% of people's food comes from subsistence. Many
of the native villages have lived this way for centuries. Alaska's fishing and hunting is a rich resource. Farming, however, is trickier in this cold
climate. Cold weather crops, such as potatoes and carrots do very well in the very long summer days and grow to be very large. Wheat, however, cannot
grow in the short season. As a result, Alaska imports many kinds of food, including dairy products and produce, much of it from the western part of
the US and Canada.
Transportation is a major challenge in Alaska and has a great impact on the economy. Very large areas of the state have no roads connecting them to other places. There are more pilots per capita in Alaska than anywhere else, since the seaplane (and planes with skis) provide the only way to move supplies to much of interior Alaska. Since the snowmobile (or snow machine) replaced the dog sled, people often use this as a primary means of travel in winter, moving up and down long frozen rivers covered with snow. Winter also allows engineers to pave "ice roads" by freezing large amounts of water on the tundra to bring in large equipment for constructing drilling platforms or other larger industrial complexes. When the ice road melts, there is no sign of the intrusion by trucks.
In may places, Alaska's frozen rivers are the only "highways" to transport large, heavy items that cannot be flown in, such as a new car or refrigerator or lumber for construction. Yes, people may still use cars in the road within their villages, but they keep a supply of "spare parts" (old wrecks) handy since it is not possible to go to the local Ford dealer for a repair in the bush. A warm winter such as 2003 can make interior transportation impossible, since the ice is not thick enough to support trucks traveling upriver.
Alaska's main export is seafood. Agriculture represents only a fraction of the Alaska economy. Agricultural production is primarily for consumption within the state and includes nursery stock, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock. Manufacturing is limited, with most foodstuffs and general goods imported from elsewhere.
Employment is primarily in government and industries such as natural resource extraction, shipping, and transportation. Military bases are a significant component of the economy in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. Its industrial outputs are crude petroleum, natural gas, coal, gold, precious metals, zinc and other mining, seafood processing, timber and wood products. There is also a growing service and tourism sector. Tourists have contributed to the economy by supporting local lodging.
The oil and gas industry is the largest component of Alaska's economy. Nearly 85 percent of the state budget is supplied by oil revenues. The fortunes of Alaska's oil industry, and therefore many sectors of the economy, are dependent upon world oil prices.
Today, much of the money used to run the state of Alaska comes from the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968,
it was not the first found in Alaska, but the quantity was astounding enough, and the demand for oil was high enough, to be worth building the pipeline,
a project that took from 1974 to 1977. Construction of the pipeline brought many new people to Alaska. The workers were paid very well and given housing
and food. Many more men than women came. Many of these new Alaskans decided to stay even after the pipeline was complete, having fallen in love with
the natural beauty and outdoor recreation available.
The pipeline starts in Prudhoe Bay, on Alaska's "north slope" and ends at Valdez, about 800 miles to the south. At the end of the line, oil is pumped into tankers at the port of Valdez. In 1989, the waters of Prince William Sound off Valdez suffered the worst oil spill in US history when one of the tankers hit a reef.
In order for all Alaskans to share in the wealth from the pipeline, an agreement was reached at the construction of the pipeline to set up a "Permanent Fund" for all Alaskan residents to receive a share of the proceeds each year. Alaska's teenagers who save wisely can use this money to fund their college education.
Forests add to Alaska's beauty and provide a renewable economic resource. With 28 million acres of commercial forest, Alaska's timber industry supplies world markets with logs, lumber, pulp, and other forest products. Much of Southeast Alaska is part of the Tongass National Forest, a 16.8 million acre rainforest. The Chugach is the nation's second largest national forest with 4.8 million acres.
Alaska contains half the nation's coal reserves, and its largest silver and zinc mines. Glittering gold in Alaska's streams and mountains still lure miners to work private claims. Alaska's rich natural resources, including silver, gold, copper, natural gas, and endless acres of pristine wilderness, encourage the hearty to continue exploring ways to turn resource into income. Tourism is also a major sector of Alaska's economy attracting over 1.1 million visitors annually. The tourism industry is Alaska's second largest primary employer.