After years of sustained strength and growth, the Pikes Peak regional job market—along with its economy at large—continues to prove itself as one of resilience, attracting professionals and businesses from across the country.
Since the U.S. job market bounced back to pre-recession levels in 2014, the Colorado Springs MSA (multiple statistical area) has kept pace with national trends of job growth and low unemployment. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate in Colorado Springs stood at just 2.8% at the close of 2019, compared to 3.4% nationally.
“This has certainly been an important part of our regional economic momentum, and if we can keep local labor participation high, it will be an important part of our ongoing resilience,” according to the most recent Economic Update report published by the UCCS Economic Forum in October 2019.
Due to rapid population growth, substantial private and public investment, and growth in most industries, El Paso County saw the creation of 6,749 new jobs in 2019. In December alone, there were 21,781 job openings in the region.
“This indicates that locally we are still on a trajectory of strong job growth,” the report states. “Sixteen of the  industry sectors in El Paso County saw job gains.”
As of January, the jobs in most demand were for software developers (787 openings with a market salary of $91,484) and registered nurses (686 openings with a market salary of $60,214). Also among the top 10 were jobs in sales, trucking and information technology.
“You’ve got two really good things going in Colorado, especially in the last few years in Colorado Springs,” says Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum. “Number one is that we have a lot of different industries, so not all of our eggs are in one basket. Number two is that a lot of our high-growth companies and industries are much more futuristic. When you have those two things together, you tend to attract a lot more highly educated people.”
Many of those more “futuristic” jobs fall within the professional and technical services industry and are often related to scientific research and development, engineering and computer systems. Bailey says the local boom in healthcare jobs is primarily a byproduct of an aging demographic that represents a large percentage of El Paso County residents, although it also tracks with national trends.
Health and social assistance, professional and technical services and construction have been El Paso County’s top three growth industries in recent years. And with local job growth expected to outpace the number of available workers for the next five years at least, Bailey says there is a high demand for workers with a wide range of skill sets.
“The job projections for the United States marry very well with what we’re seeing already in Colorado Springs,” Bailey says. “If you come here, you will be in high demand.”
The tight job market and surge in employment opportunities have also helped to increase wages in the region. According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), average wages in El Paso County increased from $48,932 in 2017 to $50,752 in 2019.
Traci Marques, executive director and CEO of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, says that last year the organization helped nearly 14,000 people—ranging from people with an eighth-grade education to multiple Ph.D.s—find jobs with an average annual wage of $45,393.
“Right now, there is a lot of opportunity in a lot of different industries,” Marques says. “When you look at the opportunities we have in the Pikes Peak region, just look at the skills you have and how those skills might adapt to different industries.”
Marques says there is an opening for nearly anyone looking to apply because of the diversity in industry and the needs of each employer for a variety of experience, skills, education and certifications. Many higher-paying positions require some level of college education, but Marques says there is also a consistent need for midlevel workers in fields such as IT services, bookkeeping and construction.
“An engineer needs an engineering degree, and a doctor needs a medical license,” Marques says. “But some of these other jobs have shorter, more accessible credentials programs, so you can get into the job and maybe do some additional on-the-job training.”
The military continues to be a source of employment opportunities in Colorado Springs. Last fall, Peterson Air Force Base became the temporary headquarters of the newly launched U.S. Space Command and remains a front-runner to be named the military branch’s permanent home, a prospect expected to bring 1,500 jobs and a $1 billion construction budget, plus defense contractors with potentially thousands of employees.
“Colorado Springs was once—and must again be—the home of U.S. Space Command,” says Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Corporation. “We know that, and we want decision-makers in the nation’s capital to know it as well. We are amplifying that message, with concern for national security backed by facts and logic.”
Nevertheless, the local economy has grown less reliant on the military sector over years of industry diversification. “While the military has stayed relatively the same in terms of employment and economic impact, other industries have grown; like finance, insurance and real estate; like professional and business services; like healthcare and social assistance,” Bailey says. “Even if we start to have some gradual reductions in the military here—which isn’t likely—there is so much growth in other industries that I don’t think it would be a barrier.”
The city isn’t only attracting a workforce beyond that; it’s attracting companies to employ them, Draper says. “We assisted 11 companies resulting in 1,861 new jobs in 2019,” he says. “These companies represent industries ranging from food manufacturing to financial services to tech and software development.”
The biggest—literally—incoming business is Amazon. The company’s 4-million-square-foot distribution and sorting center will be the largest building in Colorado Springs and is expected to open in summer 2021. “Amazon’s selection of Colorado Springs for two massive projects is a huge win for the community,” Draper says. “They will serve as an anchor at the Peak Innovation Park and create more than 1,000 jobs for our community.”
The economic diversity and resilience of the Pikes Peak Region is poised to become even more of an asset in coming years, as many economists expect some degree of recession to begin before the end of 2021.
“My major takeaways from these positive trends are that even in the context of a national downturn, our state and region, with its engaged and educated workforce, will not be as negatively impacted by a downturn as other portions of the nation,” Bailey writes in the introduction to the Economic Forum’s annual report. “Our diversity of industries will also play a role in our state and regional resilience.”
Bailey reiterates that point. She says that although no area is recession-proof, some parts of the country—depending on a variety of socioeconomic factors—are better prepared for such a downturn. “Simply put, there are a few states that have a predominance of more advanced industries. These states are better positioned for today’s high technology, globalized economy,” Bailey says. “No area is completely insulated, but some areas are more than others. And I think Colorado Springs is one of those more resilient areas.”