The numbers reached during the summer of 2007 represented the highpoint of pre-Great Recession good times in Colorado.
Statewide construction employment had notched up to 170,000.
And the jobs were in everything from transportation and office building to residential construction.
The onset of the Great Recession, however, hit the Mile High State as hard as it did its neighbors: by May of 2011, construction employment had shrunk to 112,000.
But this year, notes Ryan Gedney, a senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor, the state’s construction employment has surpassed that 170,000 benchmark after more than 5 years of steady growth.
“In fact, construction has been one of Colorado’s strongest growing industry sectors, probably since 2012 or 2013,” says Gedney, noting that the job growth in just the last year alone, from May of 2017 to May of this year, has jumped from 161,900 to 171,600.
“That’s an increase of 9,700 jobs over the year,” reports Gedney, “and a growth rate of about 6 percent.”
The numbers are strong everywhere, in all segments of the state’s construction industry, reflecting something even larger: a Colorado economic boom of unprecedented proportions.
The boom is so big, noted legislative economist Greg Sobetski in recent testimony before the State Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, that one longtime trend in the state continues unabated: people from all points east, north, south, and west continue to pour into Colorado to find work.
And most of them do.
“That means more money for households,” said Sobetski. “That also means, coupled with a tight labor market, that there’s more money that’s being demanded by these laborers, and personal income is increasing as well.”
Colorado’s numbers, which include a median household income of $65,600, higher than the national average of $57,600, have been impressive enough to prompt U.S. News & World Report earlier this year to classify the state as having the greatest economic growth in the nation.
Known for its vast Great Plains and majestic Rockies, Colorado, with a population that has robustly jumped from 5 million in 2010 to more than 5.6 million last year, has, in fact, always attracted outsiders moving in to become a part of the state’s thriving technological, biosciences, and higher education sectors.
The U.S. News & World Report also noted another reason for the ongoing influx: healthy living.
“The population in Colorado is among the healthiest in the nation,” said the magazine, noting that such standards of living are undoubtedly encouraged by the state’s “outdoor activities, physical beauty, and mild climate.”
But despite Colorado’s upward trajectory, there are still parts of the state that remain economically challenged.
“There is a divide here between the small and rural towns and the metro areas, as there is across the country,” says Jeff Kraft, the director of business funding and incentives for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“The smaller towns have been struggling to come out of the Great Recession,” continues Kraft, “while the metro areas have continued to see a disproportionate number of new businesses and start-ups.”
In an effort to bridge this divide, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper earlier this spring signed into law legislation providing $100 million in grants for rural high-speed internet infrastructure, noting of that infrastructure: “You really can’t have a discussion about economic development unless you have that.”
The state also has up and running what is called the Rural Economic Development Initiative, a program geared for counties with less than 50,000 people and communities with less than 20,000 people.
In the last year, that program has funded development, infrastructure, planning, and market assessment programs in such small towns as Lamar, Kiowa, Severance, and Trinidad.
“We’re seeing interesting entrepreneurial activities starting to take root in these smaller communities throughout Colorado,” says Kraft.
Such activities, adds Kraft, is one of the reasons why last fall the OEDIT announced it was partnering with the Colorado Venture Capital Authority to allocate up to $9 million for a new investment fund designed to provide seed and early-stage investment backing to rural businesses.
Meanwhile, as Colorado’s smaller communities are beginning to embrace entrepreneurial change, the state’s metro areas continue to drive the economic engine, notes Gedney.
“If you just look at downtown Denver, there are construction projects everywhere,” he says. “Non-residential and multi-family construction is particularly strong there, as it is right now in all of our metro areas.”
And as more people continue to move into Colorado, Gedney adds, “the demand for new home construction is only going to increase.”
By Garry Boulard
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