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When the CHIPS Act, education and jobs come together in Colorado (Local Tips & Reviews)

Colorado’s unemployment rate declined to 2.8% in March as, presumably, unemployed workers found jobs. The number of unemployed Coloradans dropped by 1,700 last month, according to the latest data out Friday. But more on the latest state job data in a bit.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves stopped in Denver this week to talk to local business leaders. And it was no coincidence that the meeting was at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s facility that houses the Lockheed Martin Additive Manufacturing Laboratory.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Don Graves, center, hosts a roundtable at MSU Denver on semiconductor fabrication, research and design and workforce development. Pictured on the left is Massimo Ruzzene, Vice Chancellor of Research & Innovation at University of Colorado, Boulder. On Graves’ right is Maluwa Behringer, executive director of Industry Partnerships at MSU Denver; and MSU student Julia Molnar. (Polina Saran, MSU Denver)

Graves was in town to promote the CHIPS and Science Act, which Congress passed last year. The U.S. is investing $280 billion in semiconductor research, development and manufacturing, in hopes of getting chipmakers to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. That means more workers must be trained for the manufacturing jobs, and Graves wanted to hear from Colorado business leaders on how he can help.

“The United States is not where it needs to be. In fact, we only produce about 12% of the world’s chips today and we don’t produce any of the most advanced chips here,” Graves said during a discussion with officials from education, the semiconductor industry and local business organizations. “That’s going to change.”

MSU has built a reputation of providing a training ground for students interested in gaining practical experience from the industry as they get their degrees. The school has on-site cybersecurity and aerospace centers that were co-created with local companies. It’s not just to provide training and hire students; some industry partners even have offices on campus, including York Space Systems, which builds satellites.

“We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Mark Yoss, director of MSU’s Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute. “All these new technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, all of that is coming to play in manufacturing. … Companies come here, see how it’s done and take a student with them back to their home shop and implement it there. And that company becomes more competitive, the student gets a job and we’re going to monetize that for the university and start a revenue stream.”

Across the street from the Lockheed Martin Additive Manufacturing Laboratory at MSU Denver is the Cybersecurity Center, where students and industry work together. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

As part of the partnership, Lockheed Martin has hired 90 students part time in the past six years. Of those, 80% are now full time, said Yoss, who retired from Lockheed in 2021. 

“I had my 90-day retirement and came to work here,” Yoss said. “Now, we’re going to replicate that model with every other company in the metro area.”

But there are other opportunities for industry to tap into the potential workforce of graduating students. Notably absent from the discussion were trade schools, said Shenika Carter, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metro Denver. Carter, who also owns Carter Truck Driving Academy, said trade schools are often overlooked, even though these advanced industries need electricians and other tradespeople. 

“We’re often forgotten in collaborative efforts when we discuss career pathways and pipelines,” she said.

Graves said he’ll take back suggestions and concerns to his ultimate boss, President Joe Biden. While Colorado’s struggle to grow its STEM-based workforce isn’t unique, the state’s focus on private and public partnerships sets it apart from others.

“The thing that I’m hearing consistently here … is the ability to meet people where they are so that you’re creating these opportunities — training, certification, degrees — (for) a career path,” Graves said. “It seems like the folks here are getting it more right than a lot of other places in the country. That’s why I was so excited to come to this campus.” 

Of note: 

➔ CHIPS and children? As part of the CHIPS Act, companies that receive support must “craft a program tailored to the location to provide child care for all of their workers,” a White House memo said. Graves reiterated the point: “We know that a lot of (manufacturers) operate 24/7 (so) what do parents do who have to come in and work the late shift?” he said. “Providing affordable child care in communities with the centers is going to be absolutely critical for us to be able to be competitive with the rest of the world.”

Entegris manufacturers products to transport materials needed for computer chip makers like Intel. The Massachusetts company announced Dec. 20 that it will expand its Colorado Springs manufacturing operation with a new facility and 600 jobs, partly thanks to a $3.9 million performance grant from the state if job hiring goals are met. (Provided by Entegris)

➔ CHIPS is credited for helping persuade Entegris Inc. and Microchip to expand in Colorado Springs. Bill Shaner, with Entegris, who was also at the roundtable, encouraged Graves to consider the supply chain all the way down to the raw materials. Entegris manufactures products for chipmakers like Intel and Samsung and is investing $600 million in Colorado Springs to build a new production facility. “The more that we can actually bring that entire supply line along,” Shaner said, “that gives us a lot of durability. And frankly, that gives us the consistency that we’re really looking for.” 

➔ First CHIPS funding round began Feb. 28. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. >> Details


Metro Pueblo has the state’s highest jobless rate but …

At 3.8%, the Pueblo metro area had the highest March unemployment rate compared to Colorado’s seven other metro areas. It’s typical for the Pueblo region to top the list. But at 3.8%, which was down from February’s 4.6%, the Pueblo metro area is back to where it was before the pandemic, said Ryan Gedney, principal economist for the state’s labor department.

“In March 2019, it was 4.2%,” Gedney said. “Honestly, that’s low. I would say at this point for the state and a lot of the sub-state areas, the last year, year-and-a-half, it’s been relatively difficult for employers to find workers. Whether it’s the availability of unemployed workers or the competition for workers who are either looking at different occupations or different industries because of competitive wage offers or just looking to switch jobs.”

Colorado’s March unemployment rate was 2.8%, while the U.S. rate was 3.5%.

Colorado’s unemployment rate in March 2023 was 2.8%, which is about the same as its been for the past year. The Pueblo area had the highest metro-area rate of 3.8%. But by county, Huerfano was at 5.6%.

The numbers are preliminary, so keep that in mind. The data is due to more people joining Colorado’s workforce, up 10,300 in March to 3,227,300, as well as fewer individuals in the workforce who say they’re unemployed. That number dropped by 1,700 in March to 91,000.

But, Gedney added, the data is always getting revised (including unemployment rates). 

“Job data is a lagging indicator, not necessarily a leading indicator for layoffs or downturns or anything like that,” he said. “And at this point, in the U.S., which has a much more robust (survey) sample, it is showing the first three months of 2023, while slowing, still I would say, a decent job growth.”

More on the March 2023 data:

Colorado’s non-farm employment continues to grow in March 2023 but at slower rates than anytime in the past year. At 1.2% over-the-year growth, Colorado’s rate is slower than the nation’s 2.7%. (Provided by Colorado Department of Labor and Employment)

➔ Colorado’s job growth lags behind U.S. While 11,900 more people were employed in March compared to a year ago, the number of jobs went the opposite direction. The business establishment survey estimated that nonfarm payroll jobs in Colorado declined by 4,700 from February to March, while the number of private sector jobs fell 6,200. Government jobs, however, grew by 1,500. The result means Colorado’s rate of job growth in the past year is 1.2% compared with the national rate of 2.7%.

➔ Colorado ranks fourth highest for workforce participation. The state’s labor force participation rate rose to 68.5%, or where it was last June. That’s a measure of how many working-age adults over 16 are working or looking for work. The rate was the fourth highest in the nation. The U.S. rate was 62.5%. 

➔ Wages continue to rise. Colorado’s average hourly earnings grew $1.49 in a year to $35.21. Adjusted for inflation, however, the 4.4% increase turns into a wage that is 1.5% lower than the earning power from a year ago. 


Renters, starter homes and the latest poll

So far in the latest What’s Working reader poll, a house priced between $400,000 and $600,000 is the budget of most folks looking for a house. And for most readers who shared what they think the price of a starter home should be, even $400,000 is too much. 

“$300,000, Fort Collins. Anything else is fictitious,” wrote Kendall from Fort Collins.

Amazingly, there are still single-family houses priced below $400,000 in the state. Matt Leprino, the data-crunching Realtor at Remingo, shared what the Multiple Listing Service is showing for homes priced even lower — below $350,000 in the seven-county metro Denver area. 

As of Friday, there were 25. But these freestanding homes “are almost all difficult to imagine living in. Some are mid-rehab and some are being sold as land value,” he said.

➔Take a peek at the below-$350,000 houses for sale >> Listings

This house in Golden is listed at $240,000. It has no bathroom. This cash-only listing needs a few things, including “well, septic, electricity, plumbing,” according to the listing on Zillow. (Screenshot)

The $350,000 to $450,000 for-sale range “holds more promise,” Leprino said. As of Friday, there were 123 freestanding properties in this price range. 

➔Take a peek at the houses for sale between $350,000 and $450,000 >> Listings

For renters in the Denver area, the apartment industry projects that rents will be flat this summer. The average monthly rent went up one-half of a percent, or $8, during the first quarter this year to $1,846, according to the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. 

“From our perspective, things are really stabilizing right now and the other piece we want to highlight is the market now has over 400,000 apartment homes in it. That’s a landmark number,” said Mark Williams, the organization’s executive vice president, during a news conference Tuesday.

While rents in the oldest apartment buildings built before 1970 did increase by $21 a month, the opposite was true for the newest complexes built this decade. Quarterly rents fell $52 to $2,414. 

➔ Eviction rates continue to rise, reports Denverite. >> Read

Due to time constraints, I’m extending the housing poll for at least another week. Have at it if you haven’t already:

Take the poll: Housing

Who’s looking to buy or sell a house? Share your story at https://cosun.co/WWhousing2023

Other working bits

➔ A different type of space company picks Colorado Springs. Nooks, a startup specializing in renting secure facilities, plans to open a 60,000-square-foot facility near the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. The facility will offer flexible meeting rooms and hourly or monthly office space for classified activities to encourage more startups to dive into defense and government-related ventures.

Nooks is the only company authorized to perform this work by the U.S. government, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which added that Nooks was approved for a $763,182 job-growth tax credit if it meets hiring goals. The company expects to add 35 new jobs with an average annual wage of $165,943 (no local openings on its jobs page yet). Nooks also is opening similar facilities in El Segundo, Calif., and Arlington, Va. 

Rendering of a 4.4-acre solar array project by Trimble, the Westminster-based mapping technology company. The 1.7-megawatt solar array is expected to offset more than 100% of energy consumer by Trimble’s two-building campus in the Westmoor Technology Park. (Handout)

➔ Trimble going 100% solar at Westminster campus. Some companies “go green” by buying carbon offsets and planting trees in forests far, far away. Trimble, known for its mapping technologies, is doing it right at its two-building Westminster campus. It began construction this week on a 4.4-acre project to add solar panels on top of 170 carports as well as an adjacent plot of land. The 1.7-megawatt solar array will help the company “achieve 100 percent annual sourcing of renewable electricity by 2025,” as well as reduce emissions from the facility and vehicles by 50% by 2030, according to Trimble. Boulder-based Namaste Solar is helping design and build the project. Trimble employs 1,000 people in Westminster. Construction is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter.

➔ David’s Bridal layoffs. The Pennsylvania bridal retailer filed for its second bankruptcy in five years Monday and announced it plans to lay off 9,300 workers, according to a notice filed with the state’s labor department. That could include stores in Aurora, Westminster, Lone Tree, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Grand Junction. The company hopes to find a buyer otherwise it may close, The Wall Street Journal reported. >> View WARN

Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. ~ tamara 


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