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Quick links: Colorado vs. U.S. unemployment rate | 3rd place for cable workers | John Malone speaks | Denver rents flat

For those who closely watch Colorado’s labor market, a slight increase in the state’s unemployment rate to 3.2% in September seems insignificant. 

“As a reminder,” Ryan Gedney, senior labor economist at the state Department of Labor and Employment, said during a news conference Friday, “Colorado’s unemployment rate ranged between 2.5 and 3.2% in the two years preceding the pandemic, so right now this period is pretty similar to what we experienced pre pandemic in terms of the unemployment rate.”

A pedestrian walks past the Aspen Art Museum on a warm autumn afternoon, Oct. 5, 2023, in Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s labor market is seeing trends similar to other states and the U.S. and continues to have a lower unemployment rate than the nation’s, which remained flat at 3.8% in September. But like Colorado, the U.S. rate is near its historic lows. “These changes in the unemployment rate are not significant, they’re really small,” he said.

In fact, he added, the 3.2% rate in Colorado, up from 3.1% in August and 2.8% in June, is similar to what happened last summer when the state’s unemployment rate ticked up over 3%. However, when revisions were made later after comparing job data to larger surveys in the spring, all the rates were revised back below 3%. He suspects that could happen again.

He’ll be concerned “if after benchmarking, we still see increases like a half-a-percentage point or something like that,” he said.  

The labor data is still a disconnect for some business leaders. A recent survey by the business school at University of Colorado found that most of the executives surveyed were bearish and concerned with higher interest rates. Just Wednesday, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached 8% for the first time since the mid-2000s

“With mortgage and other long-term interest rates going up especially over the past several weeks, that’s putting more downward pressure on the economy, so, while it’s pretty remarkable how resilient the labor market has been, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more weakness in the next round of data releases,” said Bill Craighead, executive director of UCCS Economic Forum in Colorado Springs, who called the September job data “a little on the weak side.”

New claims for unemployment benefits in Colorado were up in the first week of October, and the overall September jobs report counted 3,600 more people as unemployed, a number that reached above 100,000 for the first time in 18 months. That September number, at 103,500, counts Coloradans 16 years and older who say they’re unemployed. Comparably, 3,149,100 Coloradans are employed, which is down 6,100 in a month.

Craighead added that the week-to-week changes in unemployment data can be noisy, so it’s best to pay attention to a longer period. “I wouldn’t read too much into one week’s data.”

What else happened in September?

  • The government sector added 2,100 jobs last month. Gedney credits this to schools returning for the new year and staff back at work. Government, a group hit hard in the pandemic, has added 19,000 jobs in Colorado in the past year. 
  • The industry with the largest loss of jobs for the month was “other services,” which was down by 2,600 jobs. This type of job includes repair, maintenance, laundry services and more. But Gedney thinks the number will be revised lower.
  • Pueblo, again, led the state with the highest unemployment rate for a metro region, at 4.3%. At 2.9%, Fort Collins was the only area below 3%. The Denver and Grand Junction regions had rates of 3.3%, while Colorado Springs and Greeley were at 3.4%.

Colorado ranks 3rd for largest U.S. cable workforce

This week, thousands of cable-industry professionals converged in Denver for the annual SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, an event of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.  

Despite its national profile, the conference was heavy on Colorado — from SCTE’s parent, CableLabs in Louisville, to the cable providers who employ thousands of workers in the state, including Comcast, with 7,000 in the state, and Charter Communications, with 5,000, according to company officials.

A report on the economic impact of cable providers was also released by another industry association, the NCTA-the Internet & Television Association, with research done by Oxford Economics, the commercial venture of Oxford University in the United Kingdom. In it, the report attributed $96 billion in gross domestic product to the U.S. cable industry, which directly employs 263,000 people.

The report also pulled out data by state, and Colorado ranked third for most cable workers and seventh for its GDP contribution. Interestingly, Colorado cable providers employed 59,605 people, as of last year, which is higher than the number of cable workers in California, New York and Pennsylvania, home to Comcast.

“Cable has always had an outsized presence in Colorado, as many of the leading companies over time [TCI, ATC (predecessor to TWC)] have been headquartered in the state,” an NCTA spokesperson said in an email. “The current presence is primarily comprised of engineering and technology groups located in the Denver area. For example, virtually all of Charter’s engineering/tech group is located in Colorado and Comcast has a large engineering/tech presence as well. CO is also a primary video distribution hub.”

TCI is Tele-Communications Inc., which became one of the nation’s largest cable providers in the 1980s under John Malone, who moved to Denver to take the job as TCI’s president. He never left. Malone expanded his cable empire by merging, acquiring or investing in companies like Charter, Warner Bros. Discovery and international cable provider Liberty Global, where he is chairman to Liberty’s CEO Mike Fries.

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More with Malone and Fries

Longtime cable executive John Malone, in the center video screen, showed up virtually to talk about the past, present and future of cable during the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo on Oct. 17, 2023. On stage, Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, asked Malone questions. Malone said he had to look up because that’s where the screen was so he could see the Denver audience he was talking to. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

At this week’s SCTE event, Fries and Malone discussed the past, present and future of the cable industry. Malone, the second wealthiest person in Colorado according to Forbes, is known for his financial acumen. He attended the show virtually Tuesday and during the opening session, Fries ended with a lightning round of questions that seemed worth sharing:

Fries: Yes or no — Disney will still own ESPN in five years?

Malone: No

Fries: You’re a long-term buyer of one of these: Disney or Netflix?

Malone: Netflix

Fries: You’re a long-term buyer of one of these: Apple or Google?

Malone: That’s hard. Google.

Fries: Yes or No — The government wins the antitrust case against Google? 

Malone: There’s a settlement.

Fries: Microsoft or Activision, good or bad?

Malone: Good for Microsoft

Fries: The IPO market comes back in ’24 or ’25? 

Malone: ’25

Fries: “Yellowstone” or “Ted Lasso”

Malone: “Ted Lasso”

Fries: The most exciting decade for cable, is it in its past or the future? That’s a layup, John.

Malone: The future.

➔ ICYMI: Cable industry pushes next generation of cable tech, with Colorado leading the way

Other working bits

➔Denver apartment rents are flat. But they’re up slightly, according to the Apartment Association of Metro Denver’s third-quarter report, which counted 411,079 apartments in the Denver metro area at the end of September. Average rents of $1,888 are up a half of a percent for the quarter and up 1% from a year ago. The median rent in Denver is $1,810. The change in the number of vacant apartments was also flat and that’s pointing to a cooling off for rent increases. About 120,000 more apartment units are under construction or in the pipeline and that could help ease rental rates, report researcher Cary Bruteig, with Apartment Insights, said in a news release. “If vacancy rates continue to increase, and given the large construction pipeline they probably will, then rents are likely to either remain flat or decrease.” 

➔ It’s official: Colorado gets Tech Hub designation for quantum technology. The group behind the proposal to make the state an official U.S. hub for quantum technology — and attract investment, workers and companies — is happy to get that out of the way. Now the hard part: Building out the quantum ecosystem. >> STORY

➔ What’s do you need to know Proposition HH? Read this explainer by Sun reporter Jesse Paul as well as a fact check. >> MORE

Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. Remember to check out The Sun’s daily coverage online. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at ~ tamara 

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...