Given that the last 14 months have been dominated by a major pandemic that resulted in Colorado reaching the highest unemployment rate (14.4%) ever recorded in April 2020, one might naturally assume that the last year has been a bad one for job growth in Jeffco.
But the latest county economic data profile produced by the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation paints a different picture.
According to the 2021 JCEDC Economic Profile, published at the end of April, Jeffco ended 2020 with 273,863 jobs, which was up from the 270,223 jobs the county ended 2019 with according to the 2020 report. That gave the county a job growth rate of about 1.34%, which means the number of jobs grew faster than the population, which is estimated to have grown by about 0.06%.
Yet, unemployment was up too, increasing from 2.4% at the end of 2020 to 5.8% at the end of 2021. So what is really going on here?
Jansen Tidmore, the president and CEO of the JCEDC, said those numbers reflect the uneven nature of the pandemic’s economic impact, which devastated some industries but barely impacted others including major primary employers, such as the aerospace, IT and beverage production industries.
“While the service and retail and restaurant industry got hit so hard, a lot of those primary industries really had great years,” he said. “I know that is really hard to wrap your head around, it was for us as well.”
Among those local industries that had strong years are the aviation, energy, engineering, bioscience and advanced manufacturing industries. Those fields, along with the aforementioned beverage, IT and aerospace industries, make up the six “target industries” the JCEDC is currently targeting many of its growth efforts toward growing. In 2020, Jeffco added 1,850 jobs in those industries, Tidmore said.
Of those industries, it was the IT and Telecom industry that experienced the most dramatic grow. That sector added 21,981 jobs (a 27.6% increase from 2020) while the county added 246 new telecom and IT companies.
Other industries, however, were not as unfortunate. The office and administrative support job category was listed as having 32,972 jobs at the end of 2019 in last year’s report. However, in this year’s report, that number had dropped to 29,639 jobs.
The sales and related positions category also saw a decline, albeit a smaller one. It ended 2019 with 30,624 jobs and 2020 with 29,639.
Another industry that the reports say defied expectations by growing slightly in 2020 was the food preparation and serving, which went from 24,720 jobs at the end of 2019 to 25,096 jobs at the end of 2020.
When it comes to weathering challenging economic times, it helps to have a diversified economy, which Tidmore said Jeffco increasingly does. According to the labor anaylytics firm EMSI, Jeffco’s economy was ranked 207 out of the nation’s 3,142 counties for economic diversity in 2020, up from 507 in 2019.
That diversity, coupled with other trends measured over the last year, have Tidmore feeling even more optimistic about 2021.
“I think Jefferson County is very unique and very fortunate to be in a position where we have a strong primary employer basis in aerospace and bioscience and beverage production and all these sectors that really allow us to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever, because our industries, when the world was shutting down, a lot of ours were working 24/7,” he said. “And because of the type of industry that we have we know that we are poised to come out and bring our community up along with that,” he said.
Tidmore said those trends are also exemplified by the high number of expansion and attraction projects that were announced last year. Expansion and attraction projects are projects that the JEDC works on that bring new jobs, companies and investment to Jeffco. Among the expansion prohects last year are the massive plant expansion at the MolsonCoors brewery and the addition of new aerospace and bioscience companies that located some of their operations in Jeffco for the first time.
“2020 saw the most announced projects ever in Jeffco’s history — $842 million in new projects — and that tells us we are going to have the strength to help our whole resident base recover over the next five years.”