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Byline: Hal Bernton
Apr. 28--ANCHORAGE, Alaska-- John Cartwright, fresh from Idaho and hungry for work, arrived here during the spring break-up season. Mountains of dirty snow piled in parking lots. Dark melt water filled the potholes. Outside a midtown Job Service Center, patches of bleached grass emerged from the winter still flecked with last fall's moose droppings.
But inside that office, Cartwright found that Alaska at this time of year still holds strong appeal -- an abundance of job listings in a state that last year registered the strongest employment growth in the West.
The vast majority of these jobs are not the big-dollar, oil-field jobs that fueled the Alaska boom of the '70s and early '80s. Instead, they are mostly city jobs paying $8 to $12 an hour. That's enough to satisfy Cartwright, who last year lost a $9-an-hour job at Micron Electronics in Nampa, Idaho.
"Anyone who thinks they're going to come up here and get rich is just fooling themselves," Cartwright said. "I'm looking to make Alaska my home."
These modest-wage jobs helped propel Alaska to a 2.2 percent increase in employment in 2001 at a time when most of the nation -- including Washington -- was going through a recession and work-force contraction.
But Alaska's longer-term economic performance over the past decade has been sluggish, with the state's average annual wage plummeting from 28 percent above the national average in 1990 to just about even at the decade's end. The …