Things are great! We have less than 2% unemployment. The economy is growing above the national average. We are fiscally sound and have money in the bank. But, we rank 7’th from the bottom in the nation in terms of underemployment. Ah, that last part is the rub isn’t it? With an aging workforce and a large underemployment issue, the future may not be as bright as we like to think. In fact, it actually keeps me up at night. But don’t take my word for it, ask Elizabeth Garner, the State Demographer for Colorado, and she will highlight those same facts. You add in the unknowns from transformation that will continue to occur as a result of automation, artificial intelligence and retail disruption and my sleepless nights start to produce nightmarish images.
But, let’s talk about the good news. The good news is that we are 7’th from the bottom in the nation in underemployment. The good news is that 45% of our workforce has a bachelor’s degree or higher and only the low 20% of jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Why is that good news? It is good news because it means that we have a lot of unused fuel in the tank-our talented and educated workforce. For example, if you compare average wages in the Loveland-Fort Collins MSA for jobs requiring a college degree and those that don’t require a college degree, we could, by reducing underemployment by 10%, add $40 to $50 million in increased wages to the MSA. Thus, by using our existing labor in the region better, we all get a raise as those wages multiply into the economy.
Of course, in order to do that we have to attract and expand the employers and the jobs that pay those higher wages while every region, city and town in the country is trying to do that same thing. As study after study has shown, the regional efforts are most effective and successful when they approach marketing from a comprehensive and cooperative effort. They put forth all of the resources they have available and tell their story in the most understandable and best way possible. And, in the context of “Sales 101”, those regions that identify what they are looking for specifically and are strategic in marketing their advantages can point to and define quantifiable and transformational wins for their people.
One of the most compelling reasons for adding better paying jobs is to support the graduates that are being produced from our great higher education institutions. As higher education is an increasingly more costly endeavor, it is imperative that graduates receive more of a return in the form of higher wages on their educational investment. Of course, this is not uniquely a problem of Northern Colorado, but it is more of a problem when you have high underemployment. If there is not some greater return on the educational investment, then many economists predict much greater default rates on student loans and significantly less funding available to finance degrees. Taking the funding out of the higher education market would lead to transformational impacts to colleges and universities and have a significant negative impact on college towns. A much better solution is to go find better paying jobs for our students and more fully utilize their skills and education in our region.
Join Realities for Children at their FREE community event: Nightlights Tree Lighting Celebration on Friday, December 1st from 6-7pm at the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins – help take a child out of the darkness of child abuse by giving a nightlight here