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What’s Working: Colorado’s blood-plasma industry grew by 170,000 square feet this week

Terumo BCT jumps into a new market. Plus: Two Colorado counties rank 5th nationwide for economic growth, prices are up and where are all the lifeguards?

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A decline in global plasma donations during the pandemic has one Colorado company hoping to reverse the trend in order to help people with rare and chronic diseases. Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies opened a new manufacturing plant this week and plans to hire several hundred workers. 

But first, in economic news, two Colorado counties ranked fifth nationwide in newly released federal data. Denver was among top employment growth rates, while Adams County had some of the largest rates of wage gains. Not bad considering they’re judged against the 343 largest U.S. counties in the latest Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Denver skyline is pictured from West 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Westminster. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Denver’s employment grew 10.2% in the fourth quarter compared to a year earlier, while Adams County saw wages jump 11.9% to an average of $1,373 per week. That shouldn’t be a surprise to What’s Working readers since this weekly column has been covering how reopening business created competition for workers followed by raising wages and benefits to attract applicants. 

In the new BLS data, here’s how nine Colorado counties fared in terms of job and wage growth for the fourth quarter compared to a year earlier: 

We’ve had sneak peeks on what any new data might say (federal reports tend to be released months later, after we’ve already moved on). Luke Pardue, lead economist for payroll and benefits site Gusto, can tap into his company’s data to see what is actually going on at local companies in real time. He feels the so-called Great Resignation, which describes the trend of people quitting jobs for something better, has leveled off. Maybe workers have found what they’re looking for?

“We’ve been seeing more economic growth in Colorado compared to the rest of the country,” Pardue said in an interview earlier this month. “We saw stronger job growth in the spring in Colorado and that’s accompanied by pretty robust wage growth since the beginning of the year.”

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According to Gusto data, average wages in Colorado grew 80 cents this year, compared to 37 cents for the rest of the country.

While employers still say it’s tough to fill open positions (remember last week’s column on McDonald’s?) many have increased pay and added more benefits. Of course, general living expenses are up, but economists blame rising inflation more on the spike in gasoline and energy prices, rather than higher wages.

Still, inflation is hitting the pocketbooks of workers, who are anxious about economic uncertainty, Pardue said. “Even if we’re seeing this really robust wage growth, it really isn’t buying these households anymore in terms of groceries or filling the tank because those prices are rising at an equal, if not faster, pace.” 

Maybe we think about it this way: We’re doing better than other states. With two counties in the top five nationwide, that should give readers a better sense of how Colorado’s economy compares to everyone else.

Overall, Colorado tied for third for highest wage growth and ninth for employment growth. By the numbers, that’s an average weekly wage of $1,484, up 7.8% from a year earlier. 

Inflation watch:

→ Colorado gas prices UP again: According to the AAA gas-price tracker, the state’s average gallon of regular gas cost $4.237 on Friday, up 10 cents from a week ago, 21 cents from a month ago and $1.122 from a year ago. AAA reports that gasoline demand dipped this week and that helped minimize the usual price hike for a holiday weekend. If demand slows again this upcoming week, “pump price increases could be limited,” AAA says. Colorado tied for second highest weekly gas price increases, but the state still had the 10th lowest per-gallon price in the nation. >> AAA gas check

→ Housing prices are UP again: In April, the median sales price for a house in Colorado grew 19.6% from a year ago to $600,000, according to the Colorado Association of Realtors. The Housing Affordability Index dropped 34.6% to 51, which is based on interest rates, median sales price and median income by county. The higher the number, the more affordable houses are. A year ago, the number was 78. >> Realtor data for state and local markets

→ Rents are UP too: After holding in the $1,300 monthly range for three years, average rents in Colorado jumped $200 last year and are currently at $1,560, according to Apartment List. Prices vary depending on where you live, so here’s a chart with the major metro areas Apartment List tracks: 

→ Yup, rising costs are concerning, Coloradans say. A new poll of 2,985 residents by The Colorado Health Foundation researchers found that 88% feel “the cost of living is a serious problem,” which is now a slightly higher rate than those who blame the cost of housing alone. The higher prices of housing, food and fuel/gas were the big concerns. >> See survey

Terumo BCT: Blood, plasma and jobs 

Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies, which makes medical devices including syringes, knows all about blood. Its technology helps customers collect and prepare blood for further medical treatments. Expanding into devices that collect plasma, the protein-rich yellow fluid surrounding red blood cells, made sense.

“If you’ve ever donated blood or had a friend or family member receive a blood transfusion, you’ve interacted with our products. We’re the biggest name nobody’s heard of,” said Cynthia Hougum, Terumo BCT’s senior vice president of Plasma Innovations. And plasma, she added, “is a natural extension, plasma being a blood component.” 

Employees at the new Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies manufacturing plant in Highlands Ranch on May 25, 2022. (Provided by Terumo BCT)

Its new 170,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Highlands Ranch made its public debut earlier this week. The facility will be manufacturing single-use plasma collection kits by summer.

But the key reason behind Lakewood company’s $250 million investment to build the manufacturing plant stems from a large market opportunity. Hougum said Terumo BCT is jumping into the $850 million plasma donation systems market. And plasma made into medicines is a $21 billion industry that is growing at about 8% to 10% a year. 

“As you might suspect, during COVID, there were less donations. That is now recovering,” she said. “And there is a huge need worldwide.”

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Plasma is used in therapeutic medicines to treat people with rare autoimmune diseases, hemophilia and chronic health issues. It’s also used to treat trauma, shock and burns during surgery. Some market researchers estimate that the global plasma industry will grow 50% by 2027 to $59.8 billion

When plasma donations fell 20% in 2020, the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association said the decline was “risking patients’ lives.” Some plasma-collection companies advertised payments of $500 to $700 for folks who’d donate twice a week, the legal limit in the U.S. Critics, however, noted that payments may cause those in desperate need of money to overlook potential side effects including serious infections. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says most donors have no side effects.

In response to the pandemic decline in donations, the association said, “Quite simply, plasma donors save lives.”

Meanwhile, Terumo BCT had already been working on a new device called the Rika Plasma Donation System, which received FDA approval in March. This cuts the time spent donating plasma by 30%, or to less than 35 minutes, Hougum said. 

“We were approached by the industry leader CSL to see if we were interested in doing a joint development program,” she said. “We’re focusing (with CSL) upfront on the donation of plasma so that we can reach more patients.”

During a typical plasma donation, a donor’s blood is removed, the plasma is separated and the blood returned. Terumo’s device speeds that up with a proprietary separation technology. That means a donor can spend less time at the collection center, and collection centers can handle more donors.

The Rika Plasma Donation System uses proprietary technology from Lakewood-based Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies to a separate plasma from blood. It reduces the time plasma donors spend by 30% with a process that is less than 35 minutes. (Provided by Terumo BCT)

And just like syringes to collect blood are one-time use, so is the container to collect the plasma. Terumo calls it a “single-use collection set.” That is what workers at the Littleton plant will be making. 

Terumo BCT has been part of the Denver business community for more than 50 years and employs about 2,300 in Lakewood, where it has another manufacturing plant that is facing air-quality issues

Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies new manufacturing plant in Highlands Ranch will produce “single-use collection set” that will be used to collect blood plasma from donors. (Provided by Terumo BCT)

By summer, the Highlands Ranch plant will be running at 25% capacity with around 100 workers. The company plans to triple staff to about 300 as customers grow. Hougum said that finding workers hasn’t been difficult, as other employers have experienced. That may have to do with benefits, bonuses and above $20 per hour starting wages, with skilled positions paying much higher. 

According to Terumo’s careers page, manufacturing openings in Littleton include entry-level jobs like a machine operator that pays $21 an hour to an automated equipment maintenance technician at $29 to $36 an hour. 

“It’s a good industry to be in and we expect continued growth … in the Colorado area,” she said.

→ As of Friday, Terumo BCT has about 100 job openings in the Denver area: careers.terumobct.com

Where are the lifeguards?

Denver Parks & Recreation can’t find enough lifeguards for its 30 swimming pools so it’s closing six indoor pools starting June 5. Keeping outdoor pools open is the priority. Because of the shortage and to allow for more lifeguards to be certified, the outdoor pool season opening date was pushed back to June 13. Denverite has more on the city’s lifeguard shortage. But here are more reports of delayed pool openings and a scarcity of trained staff:

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Who else is hiring?

→ Bay Area online wine seller Naked Wines, which will get a $4.3 million job-growth tax credit from Colorado if they add 251 jobs to its new Denver “second” headquarters, has begun hiring. But they really need to update their jobs board, which shows only two openings in Denver, as of Friday. >> JOBS

→ The U.S. Postal Service, is looking for 300 mail carriers, reports KDVR. >> JOBS

→ Fewer jobs on state’s job board: There were 117,605 openings on Friday at ConnectingColorado.com, down from 4.4% from three weeks ago. >> JOBS

More working bits

→ How work changes public benefits: A tool now available at Colorado Workforce Centers aims to help people receiving public benefits analyze how employment affects their subsidy and see how a quality job may be more beneficial. The tool, dubbed CLIFF, for Career Ladder Identifier and Financial Forecaster, provides resources based on the user’s income, location, occupation and family size. >> Find your local Workforce Center

→ SBA Colorado offering free leadership program: The local Small Business Administration office is running its own program to train C-level executives who want to “accelerate the growth of high potential small businesses.” Called THRIVE (for Train, Hope, Rise, Innovate, Venture, Elevate), the five-month program provides specialized training to put together growth plans, learn about access to capital and government contracts, and provides mentoring. It starts July 5, is free and is being hosted in Colorado Springs. >> Register

→ A rash of layoffs at tech companies, at least in California. Just this week, San Francisco payment startup Bolt Financial said it was cutting one-third of its workforce “to secure our financial position,” its CEO wrote. PayPal is closing its San Francisco office and laying off 83. And in recent weeks, the ax fell at Robinhood, Netflix and many more tech companies. But here in Colorado? Tech layoffs, if happening, haven’t been made public. Colorado’s official job layoff notices — a.k.a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARNs — have been relatively quiet this year other than Zillow Group’s ongoing abandonment of Zillow Offers, resulting in 44 jobs lost in Centennial. Email tips to tamara@coloradosun.com


You made it! But was there something about Colorado’s economy you wanted to know more about? Just ask me at tamara@coloradosun.com. And don’t forget to add “What’s Working” to the subject line. Until next week! ~tamara


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