August 27, 2020 Economic Development

Fueling Downtown Denver’s Economy By Attracting World Class Talent | DDLP Class of 2020

It’s no secret that Denver is one of the most attractive employment markets in the country.  With sunny weather year-round, outdoor recreation options, a highly educated workforce, and relatively lower costs compared to the coasts, what’s not to love?

Yet for all of its accolades, Denver must rise to meet vital challenges.  Compared to other major U.S. cities, Denver faces pressing issues related to racial equity, inclusion, and gentrification.  Denver must also carefully navigate COVID-19 to remain a top destination and emerge with a stronger economy.  Read on to learn about workforce recruiting in Denver and innovative strategies for the future.

Denver’s Recruiting Landscape

Before COVID-19, Denver’s economy was on a roll.  The city ranked near the top of many “Best Of” lists for workforce talent.  Denver was a highly desirable place for employees seeking positions and re-locating from other areas of the country.  Many of those trends may continue if the city takes appropriate action.

Data from 2019 reveals the extent of Denver’s recruitment boom times:

  • Metro Denver’s 2.3% unemployment rate was among the lowest of all metro areas.
  • Metro Denver’s labor force has grown by almost 200,000 in the past five years.
  • Downtown Denver is one of the nation’s most highly educated workforces.
  • The Denver region workforce was 1.7 million people strong in 2019.
  • Denver added 6,563 new jobs in 2019.

During the past two years, almost half of all new downtown Denver jobs were in the “Business and Professional Services” sector.  National research shows this sector is expected to be the most resilient to potential recession.  Denver also benefits as the state capitol of Colorado and the regional hub for many government jobs.

Spurred on by these sectors and others downtown, Denver experienced 11% wage growth from 2008 to 2018.  Such a record places Denver #7 in the nation – ahead of cities such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, and New York City.

Check out Denver’s 2019 employment breakdown:

Also, how Denver stacks up with wage growth compared to other major U.S. cities:

Finally, Denver’s population growth provided fuel for a robust workforce.  Over the past 10 years, highly skilled workers flocked to Denver and the surrounding region.  The workforce grew from 1.4 million to 1.7 million between 2010 and 2020.  Impressive results compared to the national rate:


Population growth in key demographics brought knowledge workers to Denver’s companies, government agencies, and organizations.  Denver’s median age is 34.  73% of downtown Denver residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national rate of 32.6%.

Finally, Denver companies provided the types of jobs — especially in technology — that attract a talented workforce.  In the past two years, 347 start-up companies were founded in Denver’s center city alone.  Approximately 5,140 total start-up employees call Denver home.

Denver StartUp Week, held annually in the fall, is the largest free entrepreneurial event of its kind in North America.  The event sprawls throughout the city with events and brings thousands of attendees to town. Check out more information here.


Denver’s Workforce Confronts COVID-19

Like all cities and places around the globe, Denver must carefully navigate COVID-19 from a workforce perspective.  Due to the impacts from the virus, metro Denver’s unemployment rate shot up from 2.8% in February 2020 to 10.4% in May 2020.  Since March 30, 2020, the amount paid in Colorado unemployment totals over $2.5 billion.

Despite its geographic location, Denver and Colorado’s unemployment during COVID-19 compares more similarly to the coastal states.

While Denver’s younger workforce is a normally strong suit for attracting talent, workers aged 25 to 34 are being hit hard by COVID-19 impacts.  Overall, about one in ten people living in Colorado is currently unemployed.  Young adults are the largest percentage of those out of work.

Check here for a deeper dive on Colorado’s unemployment numbers as of July 2020:

While the lasting economic impact from COVID-19 is unknown, Denver may be well positioned compared to other cities.  Recent research suggests that Denver and similarly situated cities may prove more resilient based on population density, scope of industries and educational factors.

Promoting Racial Equity and Inclusion

While Denver has benefitted from population growth and an influx of employees, the city must do more to address racial equity and inclusion.  According to studies, Denver is now rated as the 2nd most “gentrified” city in the nation.  Clearly, there is much work to be done.

Gentrification is cited as a factor in decreased housing affordability in Denver and other areas because it reduces the supply of lower-cost rental units, leading to displacement of low-income and minority residents.  Recent research suggest that COVID-19 will only exacerbate the effects of gentrification:


Moreover, the population growth forecasted over the next several decades in Denver and Colorado is not equally represented across communities:

In addition to uneven growth and resulting gentrification, there is a comparative lack of diversity in Denver’s current population and workforce:

Recognizing the importance of diversity for cities to truly thrive, attracting talent to Denver must include strategies for promoting equity in businesses and organizations.  Skilled millennial workers, sought after by Denver companies across industry types, place strong value on meaningful workplace inclusion.  When job seeking, these employees and others will expect businesses to be proactive and engaged in cultivating and advocating for racial equity and greater inclusion.

Prospects for the Future

Denver has enjoyed recent success attracting workforce talent, but nothing is guaranteed in the future.  More importantly, significant challenges remain to improve upon diversity and inclusion in our companies and organizations.  In order to attract the best talent, and improve in needed areas, Denver’s business and civic community should focus on:

  • Creating organizational cultures to make people of all backgrounds feel valued
  • Implementing concrete strategies for equity and inclusion
  • Embracing professional and personal fulfillment of employees
  • Adapting to flexible work schedules
  • Increasing transparency between management and employees
  • Providing all employees with increased training and development opportunities
  • Encouraging philanthropic engagement, civic participation, and city-building
  • Advocating for more affordable housing opportunities as gentrification rises
  • Focus on the “living” part of cost of living for all employees
  • Providing an enjoyable, affordable, and vibrant place to live
  • Developing public transit/mobility options for work and personal life
  • Keeping Denver’s culture intact with all of its diverse influences and experiences

By incorporating these strategies and more, Denver should be well-positioned to continue attracting world-class talent for the decades to come.

This blog post was written on behalf of the Downtown Denver Leadership Program Class of 2020.