Colorado jobs gains stronger than thought in third quarter

Landscapers Mike Ransom and Kurt DeLucero spent a snowy Wednesday afternoon recruiting workers, with few takers, at a downtown job fair.

While the weather was a factor, the pair also realize the days five years ago when desperate workers would walk in the door looking for an opportunity are long gone.

"It is tough to get anyone interested in a landscaping position," said DeLucero, president of Arrowhead Landscape Services in Golden.

Promises of year-round employment, full training for novices and higher wages aren't doing the trick. A report out Wednesday from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment helps shed some light on why that might be.

Revised payroll numbers show Colorado employers added 17,400 more jobs than initially estimated through September 2014.

The upward revisions, if they hold up into the fourth quarter, could boost Colorado's non-farm payroll job growth in 2014 to 3.3 percent from 2.7 percent , said Alexandra Hall, the state's chief labor economist.

The last time Colorado added jobs at such a fast clip was in 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom.

Employment gains came in much stronger than initially estimated in manufacturing, transportation and trade, and financial services, but construction, the category that includes landscapers, was in a hiring frenzy last year.

Monthly job counts showed a 7.5 percent rate of growth in construction jobs in Colorado in 2014. Hall said the revisions now peg growth closer to 14.3 percent.

More jobs lured more people to the Front Range, pushing up rents and home prices far above the national average rates. A more robust housing market, in turn, has lifted demand for landscaping services, but the industry is hard-pressed to find the needed workers.

DeLucero said the only way Arrowhead, like many landscapers, will manage to keep pace with its current workload is by obtaining visas, 60 in total, for foreign seasonal workers.

Thursday's report is causing an overhaul in some common perceptions about the Colorado economy in 2014.

El Paso County, for example, was considered a economic slouch compared with other metro areas in the state and on track for a small decline in payroll jobs in 2014 based on monthly reports.

Hall now says the Colorado Springs economy added 6,000 more jobs than initially estimated through September and could end the year with a respectable 2.2 percent gain.

Boulder County, by contrast, initially was considered a star pupil with a 2.9 percent gain in payroll jobs last year. But revised counts show 2,500 fewer jobs than estimated, resulting in a 1.4 percent growth rate.

Grand Junction, initially thought to be losing jobs is now on track for a 2.2 percent gain, which will push proud Boulder to the back of the pack.

Revisions for Greeley, which includes all of Weld County, were especially noteworthy, with 4,700 more jobs than initially estimated created as of September.

Job growth there, initially estimated at 3.6 percent, is now expected to come in closer to 8.8 percent, creating a heightened sense of danger in 2015.

"This brings home the vulnerability of that area when we see the job losses we are expecting to see in oil and gas," Hall said.

Ransom said the drilling downturn could cause some former landscape workers who left the fold for higher paychecks to return, but so far they aren't showing up.

The more robust payroll numbers line up more closely with a separate household survey that showed a drop in the Colorado unemployment rate from 6.2 percent in December 2013 to 4 percent in December 2014.

That sharp decline now makes more sense in an economy estimated to have added close to 80,000 jobs last year. A final and more firm count for the year, including fourth quarter revisions, won't be available until May.

Source: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_27597028/colorado-jobs-gains-stronger-than-thought-third-quarter