KENAI -- The Kenai Peninsula’s economy is diverse, reasonably strong and, in many ways, better than other economies around the state, despite an economic growth of only 1.8 percent in the 1990s.That’s the message researcher Brigitta Windisch-Cole, of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, gave at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Feb. 28."We can call 1.8 percent moderate," she said, adding the decline in 1999 was considered leveling out."I was here in 1999 and the mood was not good," she said. "Oil prices were low, tourism was down, and so was fishing."She said the loss of nearly 2 percent of Peninsula jobs in 1999 over 1998 is directly attributable to layoffs at the Unocal fertilizer plant, Southcentral Air’s demise and the explosion and fire at the Icicle Seafoods plant in Homer.Some other facts and figures Windisch-Cole presented included:* The Peninsula has always had a faster rate of growth than the rest of the state. In the 1960s, the Peninsula experienced 16.5 percent growth, compared with 6.6 for the state as a whole; in the ’70s, the Peninsula had 7 percent growth, the state 6.3 percent; in the ’80s, the Peninsula had 5.2 percent to the state’s 3.5; and in the ’90s, the Peninsula’s growth was 1.8 percent to the state’s growth at about 1 percent.* In the ’90s, industry growth was mixed, with oil and gas employment declining by 9.5 percent, and manufacturing -- which includes the then-Unocal fertilizer plant and the Tesoro refinery, but not the Phillips LNG plant -- falling by a whopping 25 percent.* Retail showed the greatest growth of all sectors in the last decade, with a 57.7 percent increase in jobs. It was closely followed by the financial, insurance and real estate industries with 39.5 percent, and construction at 30.8 percent. The service industry and government employment increased by roughly 24 percent each.* There is a huge disparity in wages between the oil and gas industry, which is losing jobs, and the service and retail industries, which account for most of the new jobs created on the Peninsula.Her figures show annual oil and gas wages in 1999 averaged $60,485, while service and retail averaged $18,000.* In 1999, the Peninsula work force earned $498.6 million, with an average wage of $30,091. The biggest piece of the pie came from government employees, highlighting their importance to the area’s economy. More than 30 percent of the total earnings on the Peninsula were made by government employees, compared with 19 percent in service and retail, and 13 percent in oil and gas. Seafood processing accounted for barely 3 percent of income earned.* Unemployment has been a relatively dark spot during the ’90s, but has recently improved, Windisch-Cole said. In 1991, 11.7 percent of the work force was out of a job, and it went up from there. The next year it was 13.6, before peaking a year after that, in 1992, at 15.5 percent. After declining slightly for the next few years, the jobless rate popped back up to 14 percent in ’96 and was 13.6 percent in ’97.The decade’s only year of single-digit unemployment followed in 1998, when the rate was 9.8 percent. In ’99, it rose 1 percentage point, but dropped back down to 10.2 in 2000."The unemployment rate is tied to the economy of the Lower 48," Windisch-Cole said. "If the national economy weakens, we will get an influx of workers from there."* Since the economy in the Lower 48 had been so good during the Clinton years, causing fewer workers to come to Alaska looking for jobs, in-state and local hire skyrocketed in the ’90s. In 1992, out-of-state hire was more than 34 percent. In 1999, it was down to 17.8 percent.* An influx of retired people to the Peninsula -- up 70 percent in the ’90s -- could be attributable to the relatively low cost of buying a home here. The average cost of a home on the Peninsula is $146,631, she said, and it only takes 1.3 wage earners to buy one.In Juneau, it takes 1.9, Kodiak 1.8, Ketchikan 1.7, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough 1.6 and Fairbanks 1.4. The state average is the same as Anchorage at 1.5.* A solid majority of the jobs on the Peninsula are in the central Peninsula. Two-thirds of the jobs are in the Nikiski-Sterling-Kasilof triangle, with the Homer and Seward areas accounting for about 15 percent each.Windisch-Cole said the construction industry is an early indicator of the overall health of an area’s economy, which looks good for the next few years, as millions of dollars are going to be spent on roads and other public works projects.