Job growth should be part of the Colorado Springs business landscape in 2018, positive news that is tempered by a need for more workers.

The area’s low unemployment rate — it was 3.3 percent in El Paso County in November, with the state rate at 2.9 percent — means there are more jobs than people looking to fill them.

Still, Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said the jobs future is bright for the Pikes Peak region.

“From what I’m hearing from our members and others, we should have strong job growth,” Draper said.

At a Tuesday meeting with staff, he said that Chamber & EDC Vice President of Business Retention and Expansion Yemi Mobolade talked about visits to seven local businesses in December.

“They were all looking at significant job growth in the coming year,” Draper said. “They were in manufacturing, an IT company, a good cross-representation and of different sizes.”

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Traci Marques, interim executive director of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said she has seen an increase in postings for jobs on connectingcolorado.com, the database used by PPWFC.

“There were 10,815 jobs open in our area [on Dec. 27],” Marques said. “We average about 125 people a day that walk through our doors looking for services, workshops or hiring events. We see the job market being continuous from 2017 into 2018 and we have a good outlook for our job fairs and helping people find employment.”

Top fields that will need workers in the Colorado Springs area, Marques said, include health care, IT, cybersecurity, hospitality and manufacturing.

“Health care, cyber and IT are all strong,” Draper said. “Not all cybersecurity is defense-related; it’s at least as important on the commercial side, in health care and in industry.”

Those are professional positions that have been on an upward track the last few years, said one local expert.

“There are between 11,000 and 13,000 job openings every month, and that’s a robust number,” said UCCS Economic Forum Director Tatiana Bailey. “It’s not just tourism and call center jobs; five of the top 10 openings in December are professional jobs, with registered nurse at No. 1 and software engineer second.

“There’s a movement in Colorado Springs toward professional and business sector jobs, and the median wage has been increasing. A skilled labor force means a higher standard of living and a higher tax base. Colorado Springs is definitely trending in the right direction.”

Manufacturing upside

Draper said he expects an uptick in manufacturing  businesses relocating or starting up in the region.

“We heard from more manufacturing companies [in 2017] than we had in 10 years,” he said, “both in number of companies and the jobs those represent.”

Dave Jeffrey, the founder and president of JPM Prototype & Mfg. Inc., in Colorado Springs, agrees with Draper. Jeffrey is on the Chamber & EDC’s government advisory board and is chairman of the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association South.

“I am hearing from other manufacturers in our region and reports coming out of  Sen. [Michael] Bennet’s office from his surveys that the outlook for manufacturing is stronger than it has been in years,” Jeffrey said. “I’m talking about manufacturing of machined and fabricated components, goods processed from raw materials.”

He said the federal government’s new tax plan might provide additional positive impact for manufacturers and businesses in the region.

“I think the overall outlook for jobs is really strong, and I’m not seeing any downturn coming,” Jeffrey said. “I think it will continue to be strong and robust.”

How does Colorado compare to the rest of the country in manufacturing job growth?

“It depends on what reports you are looking at,” he said. “Colorado has not always been viewed as a manufacturing hub for the nation. But as we continue to make larger companies aware that manufacturing is strong in Colorado and as companies collaborate to bring these larger contracts to our area, I think that the outlook is stronger in our area than perhaps other areas of the nation.”

Draper said that many of the companies the Chamber & EDC speaks with about moving to the Springs are from California.

“We have an easier regulatory environment here,” he said. “And we’re a good central location.”

‘Turning work away’

Jeffrey hired five new employees in the last quarter and said business has increased 25 percent in the last year. But it could’ve been even better.

“We’re turning work away because there isn’t enough workforce,” he said. “We have a great economy around here but [the lack of skilled] workforce is a big problem. The last thing we want to do is steal from other manufacturers. There are both negative and positive effects with a low unemployment rate. From a negative standpoint, it makes it difficult to find good people to fill the vacant positions without trying to poach from your competitors or those that you are trying to do business with.

“From a positive standpoint, it forces us to look at what we are doing now in the community to build the future workforce, and it causes us to collaborate more with those that we may have felt were competitors in the past, and it pushes us to find new and innovative ways to solve critical needs within the company and region.”

CAMA South has encouraged local school districts and colleges to help fill that jobs pipeline.

“Part of the shortage of skilled manufacturing workers stems from the school districts getting rid of shop classes,” Jeffrey said. “But they’re starting to bring them back, and the colleges are also starting programs that help fill the void. The future pipeline is looking good.”