The area’s strong economy and diversified industries will help keep local job growth steady in 2019.

Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the UCCS Economic Forum, said even if an economic downturn does begin this year, the area’s workforce should fare better than before.

“The state of Colorado, Colorado Springs and even Boulder are not completely immune to the slowdown in the national economy,” she said, adding the region no longer relies so heavily on the defense industry, meaning it should be more resilient should a downturn occur this year.

Bailey said there’s about a 50 percent chance the national economy will experience a slowdown in 2019.

“I’m just kind of keeping my fingers crossed that it holds off as long as possible because of the positive momentum that Colorado Springs has been experiencing pretty much since 2014,” she said. “Colorado Springs did not have the highest job growth [in 2014], but that’s when we went from barely kind of chugging along with job growth to really starting to see impressive numbers.”

About 5,400 additional jobs are needed each year to match the area’s population growth, Bailey said.

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“In 2012 and 2013, we met the

threshold, which hadn’t happened in a very long time in Colorado Springs,” she said. “And then 2014, ’15, ’16 and ’17, we exceeded that 5,400.”

A couple of those years, the area surpassed the number by “quite a lot,” Bailey said, adding that in 2017, there were about 8,000 jobs added.

After climbing slightly in August, the area’s unemployment rate was at 3.6 percent for El Paso County as of October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Traci Marques, executive director of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said the area continues to have more job openings than seekers.

As of Dec. 17, there were more than 13,000 job postings for the Colorado Springs area, according to Gartner TalentNeuron.

The database is one of two the PPWFC uses for job data analysis, Marques said, explaining it crawls all online job banks, including Indeed, Monster and even Craigslist, for openings.

The number of job postings has been consistent for the last six to eight months, she said, adding wage growth has also surpassed previous years.

“We’ve noticed a lot of companies are beginning to do equity adjustments,” she said. “Companies are hiring third parties to come in and look to see what their salaries are to make sure they are competitive.”

The posted job median salary for the Colorado Springs area was $80,150 in the middle of December, which was slightly higher than the nation’s at $75,300, according to TalentNeuron.

Bailey said the posted job median salary is higher than the area’s actual median salary — typically released annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — because of the types of openings available.

“The posted jobs right now are mostly professional jobs with a lot in health care, and then in IT,” she said. “And both of those are industries that usually have higher-paying occupations.”

The top five careers with the most job openings on TalentNeuron for El Paso and Teller counties on Dec. 17 were registered nurse, customer service representative, software engineer, systems engineer and medical assistant.

“Those professional, high-paying jobs are going to pull up the median salary for posted jobs,” Bailey said.

Becca Tonn, communications manager for PPWFC, said the posted job median salary is important to look at because it offers a future outlook of market salaries.

“It shows what people are trying to hire for as opposed to what they are paying now,” she said. “It’s looking forward at what currently employers are willing to pay because that’s what they are advertising.”

Bailey doesn’t expect the posted job wage growth to rise as rapidly as it has since 2015 when it was about $55,000.

“I don’t think we are going to see the appreciation in those wages on posted jobs that we have had in the past,” she said. “In fact, already at the end of 2018, I started to see a moderation of it.”

However, as the state continues to increase its minimum wage, that will cause some lower wage growth both locally and statewide, Bailey said.

The passage of Amendment 70, which went into effect in 2017, increased the state’s minimum wage annually by $0.90 until it reaches $12 per hour in January 2020.

The Centennial State increased its minimum wage to $11.10 as of Jan. 1; it was among 18 other states at the new year to hike the minimum hourly amount employers must pay employees.

Federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

“I think [Gov.] Hickenlooper was really smart in the way that he did it because he didn’t do it all at once — that’s too much of a shock to the system for businesses that have lower-skill and lower-pay workers,” Bailey said. “We also did it at the right time when the economy was strong and in a high demand for workers and businesses were doing well enough to pay those workers.”

Another “positive externality” of the state’s minimum wage increase is more people deciding to re-enter the workforce, she said.

“I know that when I had young kids it wasn’t worth it for me to work, and I even had an education,” Bailey said. “Imagine what it’s like for someone with less education and employers in the past only paying them $8 an hour. Well, now they are having to pay more like $11 or $12, which allows more people to reconsider working.”

Meanwhile, beyond continued health care and IT job postings in 2019, Marques anticipates the hospitality industry will begin to expand locally.

“I think that’s where a big future opportunity is going to be for us, just because of the Olympic Museum coming downtown, and we have new hotels that have been approved by city council,” she said. “And that’s a great career pathway where people can start off at entry level maybe while they are going to school, and then by the time five years go by, they can be a general manager, and make around [$50,000] to $60,000 a year.”

Marques expects local employers will continue to be challenged by the skills gap issue.

“That’s nothing new for a lot of our employers in health care, manufacturing and construction,” she said. “Businesses are going to have to look at what are some alternative ways to train the staff that they have.”

The workforce center has an employee development grant available to companies, where they can use the federal funds to upscale their existing staff, Marques said.

“That’s allowing them to free up more entry level positions, which should be easier to fill than those mid-level openings,” she said. “That also shows the company has value in their existing employees, and they want to help them with professional development — they want them to grow within the company.”