Just 3,398 people were looking for work in Boulder County in April, giving the booming tech region what is likely the lowest urban unemployment rate in the country at 1.8 percent.
In comparison, Silicon Valley, another booming employment center, has an unemployment rate nearly twice as high, at 3.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The country's rate was 4.4 percent.
While many would consider this great news, it's giving employers, who have thousands of jobs to fill, heartburn.
"We keep thinking it's hit rock bottom," said Angela Spinelli, director of talent acquisition for UCHealth. "but it keeps going lower. We're all trying to figure out how to get out in front of it."
UCHealth is trying to fill 200 jobs at its new Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont. The competition for talent is so fierce that the minute a viable candidate pops into view, recruiters rush to bring them in for an interview.
"When the market crashed (during the Great Recession), you could find a candidate and interview them three weeks later. Now you have to do it within the week because they are being interviewed by multiple companies," she said.
Even economists have entered the how-low-can-it-go sweepstakes debate that is front and center in the region.
"It's never been lower here than it's been in March and April," said Brian Lewandowski, an economist with CU's Leeds School of Business. "These are historic lows."
Modern records on the region's unemployment date back a quarter century, to 1990. According to this data, the only time Boulder County's unemployment rate was lower was for a brief time in 2000, when it hit 2 percent right before the tech bubble burst, Lewandowski said. It came close again in 2007, right before the financial crash, when it hit 2.8 percent.
Unemployment rate numbers, like other economic indicators, are revised as data is checked and analyzed post-collection. These latest numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and when they are they may move upward, according to Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the Colorado Department of Labor.
"I would imagine if Boulder isn't the lowest, it will be pretty darned close when the revisions are done in a couple of months," he said.
Out on the street, companies are scrambling to find new ways to recruit workers and to keep those they've recently hired, on the job.
The University of Colorado Leeds School of Business has 900 graduates to place this summer. For the past several years the school has enjoyed a placement rate of 90 percent plus. Thanks to the shortage of workers, average salaries have risen 3.5 percent, according to Katie Connor, director of career development for the school. New grads, on average, command salaries of $53,000.
"The economy has been very good to us," Connor said, "and it's providing great opportunities for our students."
But the Leeds School is seeing employers arriving on its doorstep earlier and earlier in the education process.
"Employers have had to step up their game," Connor said. "They want freshman to know who they are so they can attract those top students for internships in their sophomore and junior years and then hire them. Employers are on campus a lot more often."
Charles Schwab is one of those employers who shows up early and stays late at the Leeds School. It has 400 openings at its Colorado operations center in Lonetree, south of Denver, according to Brian McDonald, who oversees the company's retail, stock plan, and stock compliance services.
"The war for talent is not lost on us," McDonald said. "Financial services wasn't and still isn't the most popular industry when it comes to hiring, especially when you think about the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis.
"We're finding that if you want top talent, you have to start in the career trajectory earlier. We did not have to do that 10 years ago."
McDonald said his company is able to fill most of its entry level jobs, but it has had to accelerate the pace at which it bumps salaries for those new hires because otherwise they loose them to other firms quickly.
"To retain talent is just as hard as to attract it. We have to stay incredibly competitive," he said.
UCHealth is also shifting its hiring stance, Spinelli said. "We find that we have to go out-of-state more often for our niche positions, and we would rather hire locally."
In response UCHealth has begun developing internal programs to train its own workers for some of its most demanding jobs.
"We're doing a lot of "grow-your-own" programs to develop our work force," she said.
Despite living with a chronically tight labor market and an overheated economy, no one is predicting crashes like those that occurred after the dot.com bust in 2001 and the housing collapse seven years later in 2008. Of course they're are not ruling them out entirely either, given the political uncertainty at home and abroad.
The economic expansion underway is 93 months old, according to Gedney, of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That's younger than the 120-month expansion in the 1990s, he said.
Still the lack of workers is starting to slow the economy here and nationwide, he said. "The problem with low unemployment is that there are job openings and no one to fill them. This could cause businesses to say 'we can't find workers so let's figure out how to streamline things. It's natural for growth to slow," he said.
There is some comfort, however, for employers who are wringing their hands over unfilled jobs. Things could always be worse.
In tiny Mineral County, in southwestern Colorado, the rural unemployment rate is even lower than Boulder County's — 1.6 percent in April.
Some 370 people make up the labor force there, and only six of those are looking for work.
Jerd Smith: 303-473-1332, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jerd_smith
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