Job growth and population growth typically go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s no surprise that as Larimer County has become more populous over the past decade, the number of people working for local government entities also grew.
According to a new study published by 24/7 Wall St., the area saw 18% job growth — or an addition of 31,008 jobs — from October 2014 through October 2019, with government employment leading the way. The study is based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Total job growth in the 350,000-resident Fort Collins-Loveland area was ninth among U.S. cities, according to 24/7 Wall St.
Greeley ranked 19th with nearly 17% job growth, or the addition of 23,534 new jobs. St. George, Utah, topped the list with nearly more than 20% job growth for an addition of 62,000 jobs.
Most job additions came from state government
In Weld and Larimer counties, government entities hired the most new employees during the five-year span: 6,100 jobs in Larimer and 2,100 jobs in Weld.
“Government” workers include those employed by the federal government including federal research labs, the Centers for Disease Control, Division of Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety, and employees of UCHealth (including Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies), said Amanda Repella, data program lead and workforce economist with Larimer County.
“If a state agency has an employee that is based out of an office in Larimer, they are supposed to be counted in Larimer,” she said. “There are several agencies that have a handful of employees here working out of small satellite offices or from spaces that are run by other (state, local, or federal) government agencies.”
The largest share of job additions came under state government, not local government, she said. “Our local government growth has been slower than our population growth,” Repella said.
“You expect there would be some growth (in government employment),” she said. “If there are more people they will need some services.” If local government is growing without an increase in population “there might be something you have to explain. But if your’e growing slowly and the population is expanding quickly like we’ve seen, it’s not alarming.”
Colorado State University, UCHealth and Poudre School District are the largest public employers in Larimer County. Likewise, Banner Health, the University of Northern Colorado and Weld County schools are the largest in Weld County.
CSU added nearly 975 jobs in the past five years — for a total of 7,676 — according to its database as its enrollment grew from 32,236 in 2015 to 34,166 this academic year.
Fort Collins added 147 employees during the five-year period, while 108 workers joined Larimer County’s workforce, according to city and county job numbers.
The city’s increases include 29 new jobs to build its new broadband system, Connexion, approved by voters in 2017, and 78 jobs that changed from hourly/temporary to those that became eligible for benefits, said Jamie Heckman, the city’s compensation and technology manager.
According to BLS, the Fort Collins area includes 43,500 “government employees,” the largest category of workers in the region. More than 27,000 were employed in trade, transportation and utilities work, followed by 21,700 employed in professional and business services.
Growth in government jobs ‘a mixed blessing’
While government employment grew the most in the past five years, the leisure and hospitality workforce grew 6.5 percent over the past year, according to BLS.
That’s not a surprise given the rise in the number of restaurants and hotels that have opened throughout the county.
“Growth in government jobs is a mixed blessing,” said David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. “On the positive side, they add economic ballast during an economic downturn, especially in the early part of a recession,” he said.
Typically, there’s a lag between when business activity slows and when it shows up in government tax collections, he said. “Government continues to spend when businesses are making reductions.”
Governments feel the recession later when business spending starts to pick up, May said.
CSU is particularly significant to the regional economy, he added. “We tend to have milder and shorter downturns because the university injects so much disposable income into the area economy.”
Government jobs are important to the regional economy, but so are manufacturing and retail, May said. “While government provides more jobs, manufacturing is the top contributor to gross regional product.”
Aside from research grants and out-of-area tuition in the higher-ed sector, government spreads money around, it doesn’t create the economic value that manufacturing does, he said. “Ditto with retail. Next to government, the retail sector is the second-largest employer but produces about a third of gross regional product as manufacturing.”
By the numbers
Larimer County population
Fort Collins population
Employees in 2019
Poudre School District: 3,784
Larimer County: 1,799
Fort Collins: 1,637*
*does not include seasonal positions
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by subscribing: See Coloradoan.com/subscribe to learn how.
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