economics wages

Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum, says the Colorado Springs area is at a pivot point.

“We are at a point where we are transitioning into more of a high-tech, high-skill economy,” she said. “It’s almost kind of hard to believe, ‘How can our median salary for posted jobs — not existing jobs — prospectively be higher than Denver?’ So I looked at the data and it is actually pretty intuitive when you look at it.”

In Sept. 2018, the median salary of posted jobs in the Colorado Springs metropolitan statistical area was about $78,000, which is higher than the state’s $73,125 and the Denver area’s $76,000.

Bailey shared those figures along with other statistics during her overview of the local economy last Thursday at the 22nd annual UCCS Economic Forum at the Ent Center for the Arts.

About 600 attendees gathered to hear from Bailey and Tim Quinlan, director and senior economist for Wells Fargo Securities, who first gave a national and international economy outlook.

After decades of stagnant growth in the labor force, El Paso County had an increase between August 2017 to August 2018 of 13,617 or 4.1 percent.

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New entrants into the labor force are driving up the county’s unemployment rate, Bailey said.

“We used it have more job postings than people looking for work,” she said. “Now, it’s the opposite.”

Local wages is an area of concern for Bailey if the Colorado Springs area hopes to stay competitive in the current labor market.

The private job average salary for El Paso County was $48,000 versus Colorado at $57,000 and the U.S. at $55,000.

“We were about 17 percent lower than the state of Colorado and about 14 percent lower than the U.S.,” she said. “We are moving in the right direction but we started at a low baseline so we have a long ways to go.”

El Paso County is projected to be one of the state’s top five counties for growth, Bailey said, adding the population is expected to reach of over a million people by 2050.

The Colorado Springs area remains “one of the most affordable and desirable places to live.”

However, in 2018 Q2, the median home price for existing single homes was $323,600, which is up 13.9 percent from the same time period last year.

Taking input from local home building experts, Bailey predicts strong growth in single-family building in 2018 and relatively flat construction levels for 2019.

“There are some constraints in terms of construction cost and availability of labor and not as much zoned as [builders] would like,” she said. “Maybe that’s not a bad thing to be leveling off in terms of not over building.”

The area’s rental market saw a large amount of new construction in multi-family homes, Bailey said.

Average rent for the area during 2018 Q2 was $1,157 for new and old units combined.

“We have about doubled in price since 2002,” Bailey said. “The average rent for newer units is even higher about the same as Denver at about $1400.

The area had 1,521 apartment units built in 2017 compared to 528 in 2016.

“There’s really been a lot of activity, especially in the northern part of town it seems,” Bailey said.

As for area commercial real estate, Bailey said lease rates haven’t increased as much as they have for residential.

“[Commercial lease prices] have recovered a little bit but are pretty much the same as they were prior to the recession,” she said. “Compare us to Denver, and we are still about 40 percent cheaper for retail and medical office space and about 50 percent cheaper for straight up office space. That has helped us in terms of some of the business growth that we have seen here.”

Lastly, Bailey spoke about tourism in the Pikes Peak region, which is performing “very well” she said.

There was a 1 percent increase in visitors to area between 2016 and 2017.

Bailey said almost half of the of the 23 million visitors were overnight trips and they spent about $2.31 billion.

“Or as [Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO] Doug Price likes to say, the $2.3 billion that [tourists] spend is $73 a second,” she said.

It was in 2016 the Colorado Springs area’s economy started to outperform the state of Colorado’s, Bailey said.

“Now, we are pretty much on a parallel path,” she said. “And about a percentage point higher than the U.S.”

Go to uccseconomicforum.com for more information and data from this year’s UCCS Economic Forum.

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