Dire dozen: Number of people employed in Longyearbyen drops 12 percent due largely to mining, construction losses

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The number of people employed in Longyearbyen dropped 12 percent between 2015 and 2016, due primarily to Store Norske completing its large-scale layoffs and suspending most of its mining operations, according to Statistics Norway.

That figure was detailed in a strategic business plan released Thursday by the Svalbard Business Association. In a prepared statement, the association notes residents ages 40 to 54 years old were most affected, with 83 fewer people employed than in 2015.

“We are talking about highly productive professionals with important knowledge and experience,” Terje Aunevik, head of the association, told NRK. “These are typical family people who we all want to stay here and contribute here, so if this is a lasting trend we must take action.”

Aunevik said there was also a sharp decline in construction jobs.

Mining jobs accounted for nearly 40 percent of Longyearbyen’s total employment, according to a Statistics Norway report released in 2009. But a subsequent report released last year and subsequent figures indicate mining now accounts for less than 10 percent. Meanwhile, tourism has increased from about 15 percent of employment to nearly 40 percent during that time span.

Aunevik told NRK he remains optimistic about Longyearbyen’s long-term future, especially because Norway considers Svalbard an important strategic asset.

“There are many looking north and, in the middle of this promising future area, Longyearbyen is extremely centrally located,” he said. “We are the northernmost in the world at its peak, and we have good and committed people here. I am convinced that in the long term we will get big things, but we must also relate to reality and that is that we are having tough times now.”

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