HIRE CALLING: Despite job growth, Aurora area wages lag behind, experts say

July 07, 2014

Aurora Sentinel

Job growth is solidly back in Arapahoe County, but wages continue to lag behind, according to a report this week from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report, which looked at employment in nine large Colorado counties from December 2012 to December 2013, said Arapahoe County saw 2.8 percent job growth, good for 76th among the largest 100 counties in the U.S. 

Still, Arapahoe was one of only a few Colorado counties that also saw wages slightly dip during that same stretch. While the county’s average weekly wage of $1,145 trailed only Broomfield, Boulder and Denver, it marked a dip of 0.9 percent from the previous year. 

The good news on the jobs front and less-than-stellar news on the wage front shouldn’t be a surprise, said Mac Clouse, professor of finance at the Daniels College of Business at University of Denver.

“I think it’s just a sign that the businesses are hiring people, but in general in lower wage positions than they had before,” he said. 

During an economic recovery, that’s pretty typical, he said. Companies start hiring as the economy improves, but they are often reluctant to make big investments on the higher-end of the wage scale until the economy improves a bit further. 

Clouse said that no matter what though, job growth — even if wages lag — is a good sign for the economy. 

“It builds on itself so that’s always a good sign to see,” he said. 

Patrick Holwell, a workforce economist at Arapahoe/Douglas Works, said in terms of job growth in Arapahoe County, the recent BLS report shows what other sources have said in recent months: employment growth in the county has been strong. 

“We have been seeing a lot of employment recovery,” he said.

Much of the job growth in Arapahoe County has been in the construction field, largely driven by steady growth in residential construction, he said. 

Since 2012, Arapahoe County has added 3,091 construction jobs, Holwell said.

“Arapahoe Adams have the highest concentrations of construction firms,” he said. 

The information sector — which includes things like telecommunications, broadcast and television jobs — have added about 500 jobs since 2012, he said. 

“That is one of our driver industries, especially if you look down here on the Interstate 25 corridor,” he said.

According to the BLS report, Weld County had the strongest job growth last year, with a 6-percent gain. Weld also ranked first in the country’s largest 334 counties for job growth. 

Holwell said much of Weld’s growth is attributable to an oil and natural gas drilling boom happening there. 

While Arapahoe County sees less oil and gas activity, Holwell said the industry is active here, having added 773 jobs since 2012. 

Clouse said that even if the drilling boom is happening several miles away in Weld County, it can be a benefit to Arapahoe County because it means more money in the local economy. 

“There is always the multiplier effect,” he said. 

As for the economy as a whole, Clouse said it is steadily improving, but doing so slowly. 

“I think it is still a ways to go,” he said. “We are recovering, but recovering slowly, and there is still all the uncertainty going on from a business planning standpoint.”