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It’s year 11 for the annual entrepreneurial fest that is Denver Startup Week, which begins Monday. And it’s still packed with speakers and sessions on how to start, run and grow a business. It’s also free.

And from what we’ve learned about the missing workers in the pandemic, a chunk of them went on to start a business. Last year, a record number of new businesses filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to start up. And one of them, Chamba, has pivoted two years after the pandemic began. Chamba is behind a mobile app that connects Latino workers and employers. More specifically, it pivoted this summer to focus on restaurants. 

But first, the state’s unemployment trend changed course in August, increasing to 3.4%, or one-tenth of a percentage point higher than July. This comes after 13 months of the jobless rate declining in Colorado. 

Not to fret, said Ryan Gedney, economist at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on Friday. 

“The unemployment rate went up for good reasons,” Gedney said. “We’re seeing gains in both labor force and employment. Both of those are parts of that unemployment calculation and are moving upwards. It’s simply that the labor force outpaced unemployment.”

In other words, Colorado’s labor force added more people in August — and not all of them are working. Just looking for a job is counted as being an active member of the state’s labor force.

Colorado added 7,700 more individuals to the labor force in August for a total of 3,258,000, the latest numbers show. The number of working-age adults who were employed or looking for a job in August increased to 69.6%, which matches the labor force participation rate of March 2020. Before the pandemic, the last time Colorado’s labor force rate was that high was November 2011.

The U.S. also saw an increase in unemployment rates in August, up 0.2% to 3.7%. Gedney said it was for similar reasons. More people joined the workforce. And if the labor force continues to expand, so may the unemployment rate, he added.

“Just keep in mind, a 3.4% rate is incredibly low on a historic basis. And again, we continue to see strong employment growth,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the unemployment rate ticking upwards, particularly if we see losses of unemployment.” 

If businesses cut staff due to recession fears, those workers don’t drop out of the workforce. They move to unemployment and continue to look for their next gig. 

In Colorado, the Pueblo metro area had the highest unemployment rate while Boulder had the lowest. According to the state’s labor department, unemployment rates for the state’s major metro areas in August were: 

  • Boulder, 2.6% 
  • Colorado Springs, 3.6%
  • Denver, 3.3%
  • Fort Collins, 2.8%
  • Grand Junction, 3.6%
  • Greeley, 3.6%
  • Pueblo 5.4%

Other Colorado labor data for August:

  • Jobs in the government sector, which includes education, fell. 
  • After more businesses reported their results, Colorado gained fewer jobs than estimated, or 1,900 instead of 2,200.
  • Colorado has added back 120.2% of the jobs lost during the first two months of the pandemic. The U.S. recovery was 104.2%.
  • Over the year, the average workweek for all Colorado employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased from 34.4 to 33.2 hours, while average hourly earnings grew from $32.12 to $34.17, one dollar and eighty-one cents more than the national average hourly earnings of $32.36.
  • Average hourly wages in Colorado grew 6.4% to $34.17, or $1.81 higher than the U.S. average.

Why Chamba says there is no restaurant labor shortage

The way Diego Montemayor talks about Chamba, his Denver startup, makes one wonder why it didn’t exist before. Chamba is another job app, but, as with most startups, there’s a twist. 

The Chamba app helps connect workers to available restaurant jobs. But uniquely, it helps connect Spanish-speaking workers to English-speaking restaurant owners and managers in need of employees. (Provided by Chamba)

Chamba launched a bilingual app in April 2020 that connects Spanish-speaking workers to the employers who need them. In late July, Chamba narrowed its focus to the restaurant industry. That seems like good timing if you’ve been paying attention to the restaurant staffing woes and how hard it’s been to find workers, especially for jobs in the kitchen, bussing tables and essentially “back of the house” nontipped labor.

But Montemayor has a different perspective.

“There’s not a labor shortage. There’s a connectivity problem,” said Montemayor, Chamba’s chief executive and cofounder. “And that’s what we’re solving here. We’re connecting restaurants to the talent that wants these kinds of jobs.”

In other words, he said, employers are “looking for talent in the same talent pool. They have not diversified where they search for talent and are looking in the same, common places.”

A number of companies are already promoting Chamba’s service on the app’s site, including Brothers BBQ. Aaron Nelsen, the general manager for two of the restaurant’s locations, said they had three interviews and made a hire within two days of using Chamba’s app. “We picked the best candidate out of those three interviews,” he said in a video testimony on Chamba’s site. The Spanish-speaking employee started work the next day.

Chamba service really just helps employers look in a place they probably weren’t looking before. In a few short months, it’s helped 187 clients connect to workers in Denver and New York City, the only two cities so far. The app’s been downloaded more than 172,000 times from the Apple App store and 50,000 jobs have been posted, said Corina Hierro, Chamba’s community manager and a founding member. Co-founder David Ruiz, its chief technology officer, oversaw the development of the app and led the team of developers in Colombia.

Chamba founders Diego Montemayor (left) and Corina Hierro (right) and a job seeker (middle). The Chamba app helps connect workers to available restaurant jobs. But uniquely, it helps connect Spanish-speaking workers to English-speaking restaurant owners and managers in need of employees. (Provided by Chamba)

Chamba looks beyond the audience that typically relies on Indeed, LinkedIn and other English-heavy job sites. The app, available in Spanish and English, is marketed to the Latino community and helps job seekers create online resumes even despite language barriers. 

It also vets the employers by checking online reviews first and if the company passes muster, Chamba will talk to the owners or hiring managers to see how much investment they’re putting into workers. Employers that don’t seem to care can cause job seekers to feel lost, like they don’t matter, he said.  

“If they’re spending a little bit of time with the talent, then that’s a good fit for Chamba,” he said.

Chamba has big plans for growth. It’s a venture-backed startup with more than $1.1 million in seed funding so far, with some of it coming from local accelerator program Techstars last year. “Techstars became our megaphone,” he said. “It put us in front of people who were actually going to listen (to) the social impact that we were having on the community.” 

Denver Startup Week in 2018. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

To kick off the company’s Denver Startup Week presence — Montemayor will be speaking during the kick off ceremonies around 5 p.m. on Monday— Chamba is offering Denver restaurants free access to the app to advertise their job openings. 

Interestingly, a lot of the job seekers who find Chamba already have some restaurant experience. But the important thing to note is many are trainable and Montemayor said that they’re finding that “trainable talent lasts longer than experienced talent.”

>> Chamba app

Going to Denver Startup Week? It runs in downtown Denver from Sept. 19-23. >> Register for free

→ Looking for a job? Denver Startup Week’s annual job fair is Wednesday, Sept. 21, from 5 to 9 p.m. at 144 W. Colfax Ave. in Denver. >> Register 

Inflation rate slowed to 8.1% in August 

If prices still seem higher than they were a year ago, U.S. economic data that includes the Denver metro area says they certainly are — up 8.1% in August in the Midwest region compared to a year ago, according to the consumer price index from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

And by “slowed,” that just means inflation was higher in May, June and July. The BLS credits lower gasoline prices in August.

While the area’s rate is lower than the U.S. rate of 8.3% in August, Denver had been higher for months. With the ongoing interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve this year, economist Brian Lewandowski said he was surprised inflation wasn’t lower.

“We did have slower price growth, but it was only modestly slower nationally, and core inflation ticked up. I would have expected the falling fuel prices and slower home price growth to cut away at inflation in August given the item weights,” Lewandowski said in an email.

Inflation is taking a toll on local households, he added, with “the average household (spending) roughly $500 more per month than a year ago.”

>> Inflation report


Take this week’s survey:

Summer’s nearly over. Did you spend more than last year? Take this week’s What’s Working poll if you haven’t already: https://cosun.co/livingcosts


As always, share your two cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. See you next week! ~ tamara 

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Tamara Chuang

Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww....