Primary job growth led by manufacturing sector

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Antonio Colon’s company, Combat Training Solutions, is in a growth mode.

Antonio Colon’s company, Combat Training Solutions, is in a growth mode.

A few dozen primary employers in the Pikes Peak region are slowly but surely shoring up their ranks.

Despite a grim-sounding unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, El Paso County actually added 4,700 jobs between January and July.

Not only that, but more than two-thirds of them were goods-producing jobs, which benefit the economy far more than service jobs because of the money spent to make those goods.

“We have 55 percent fewer manufacturing jobs than 10 year ago, so to add jobs (in that realm) is unheard of,” said Fred Crowley, senior economist for the Southern Colorado Economic Forum and senior instructor at the College of Business at UCCS.

Many of these new jobs pay well, with annual salaries ranging from $45,000 to $95,000.

Beyond manufacturing, sectors that have been hiring include education, health care, professional and technical services, and the retail/wholesale trade.

Although the government shed 1,600 jobs when the 2010 Census ended, the private sector added 6,300 jobs in the same period.

About 1,000 construction workers were also hired; the mining and logging industry added 300 net jobs; and the retail/wholesale trade and transportation and utilities sector added 700, primarily in retail trade.

The manufacturing jobs will create about 2,400 additional jobs in the community within a year because of the economic-multiplier effect. In other words, when those households start shopping for TVs, furniture, cars, etc., then employers in those industries have to hire as well.

One of companies in hiring mode today is Combat Training Solutions, which designs and manufactures non-pyrotechnic battlefield effects simulators. It has brought six people on board this year, said CEO Antonio Colon.

After a few contracts are finalized, and its training center opens in the first quarter of next year, CTS will hire about 15 to 20 more people, Colon said. These positions will include explosive ordinance device instructors and technicians.

After receiving numerous research grants for its cancer center, Penrose St. Francis Health Services also is hiring, recruiting researchers for clinical trials, in addition to adding physicians, and physician assistants.

“We’re not hiring a lot of entry-level” people, said Cecilia Peat, manager of human resources for Penrose.

“We gained some market share and have added technology and specialty services we didn’t have in the past,” she added.

To support that growth, Penrose hires more than 60 people per month — most of which are because of turnover and attrition. A handful of those each month, however, are new positions — a pace the organization expects to maintain in the coming months.

At Intelligent Software Solutions, a Colorado Springs-based technology company, about 100 people have been hired in the past year in Colorado, New York, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Locally, the company plans to hire about 50 to 75 people in the next six to eight months, including software developers and knowledge-management people.

“We’re ramped up trying to hire quickly in the Springs. We have a considerable amount of work to do, to fill a pipeline for the next two years,” said Carl Houghton, vice president of strategic planning at ISS.

Most of this growth is from government contracts, and many of the jobs will be senior positions, requiring security clearance.

Over the past three to four months, Xtivia, an information technology company with offices in Colorado Springs, added five new technical-resources positions, said Xtivia’s CEO Dennis Robinson, who is based locally.

When he joined Xtivia in 2000, the company had 35 employees, and that number has grown to more than 100. The company also has offices in New Jersey, New York, Austin and Denver.

In the next six months, the company plans to add three to six more data-base administration positions, locally, to its base of 22 full-time personnel and eight contractors in the Springs.

There’s also good news from the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. Since October, the EDC has visited 180 primary employers in the Springs.

About 25 of these companies plan to add about 320 jobs within a year, said Gary Markle, vice president of local industry for the EDC. Annual salary for these jobs — in the manufacturing, defense industry, health care and retail distribution sectors — will average about $65,300.

Again, there’s an economic-multiplier effect. These jobs will likely have an annual economic impact of more than $33 million.

During these EDC visits, employers were notably more hopeful than last year.

“There was a greater sense of stability in the mindsets of these employers — a much higher sense of optimism about adding people and about their revenue base,” Markle said.

As for unemployment rates, well, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Although the state’s unemployment rate has been 8 percent for the past three months, Colorado Springs — despite its 8.9 percent unemployment rate — is faring better, said Tucker Hart Adams, senior partner with Summit Economics in Colorado Springs.

That’s because more than 52,000 people have dropped out of the state’s labor force, whereas only 3,700 people in the Colorado Springs metropolitan statistical area have retired or simply quit looking for jobs.

“People in Colorado Springs have not gotten as discouraged as they have statewide and nationally,” Adams said.

So don’t let the seemingly high unemployment rate fool you. For now, there are pockets of job-growth scattered throughout the region.

“It could always be better, but really this looks pretty good,” Crowley said. “It’s not bad job growth compared to a year ago.”