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Quick links: Women in STEM stats | October unemployment rate | Colorado jobs gained/lost | Cheaper Thanksgiving dinner | Unemployment benefits delay

A national effort to address the gender gap in information technology at the annual SC supercomputing conference has had an unexpected result: a path to leadership.

“We never thought it was going to be a leadership development organization,” said Wendy Huntoon, a co-founder of the Women in IT Networking at SC. 

WINS just wrapped up its eighth year of providing travel stipends to women involved in SCinet, the volunteer group of network engineers who set up the superfast internet each year for the SC conference. SC23, which ended Friday at the Colorado Convention Center, built a 6.71 terabits per second network for the week so attendees could share their data-intense research. The number of female engineers participating in SCinet has nearly doubled since 2015, when WINS was being conceived.

Kate Robinson, technical director for SCinet, was part of the volunteer crew setting up a 6.71 terabits-per-second internet connection at the Colorado Convention Center for the SC23 supercomputing event. Robinson is from Gunnison. (Alexander Hayden, for SCinet)

“There are women who have participated in the WINS that want to take on more responsibility and are showing leadership,” said Huntoon, who was part of the first SCinet team in 1991 when she was director of advanced networking at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. “It didn’t even dawn on us to include that within the program when we first started. Obviously now, it’s something that we encourage.”

Kate Robinson, a 2017 WINS recipient from Gunnison, was this year’s technical director for SCinet. A 2018 winner, Brenna Meade, who is also from Colorado and works as a network architect at Indiana University, becomes WINS program director next year. 

And Angie Asmus, a 2016 WINS recipient, becomes chair for the whole SCinet organization next year. She’ll lead the 200-plus networking team to set up SC24’s complex high-speed network in Atlanta.

“WINS for me has been life changing and very impactful on my career,” Asmus said. “I started as a team member and within two years, I became deputy chair of my team within SCinet. Within three years I was leading my team (and) worked my way up through SCinet. It also gave me the confidence and experience leading a team, which I hadn’t been doing back at my home institution at Colorado State.” 

Angie Asmus, a 2016 WINS recipient, becomes chair for the SCinet organization next year. She’ll lead the 200-plus networking team to set up the complex high-speed network for the SC24 supercomputing conference in Atlanta. On the left is Kevin Hayden, SC Steering Committee and past SCinet chair. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

In her day job, she was a member of the networking and telecommunications team at Colorado State University. Two years ago, she was promoted to manager of CSU’s networking team. More recently, she was named interim director. 

“I’ve been coming back ever since and it’s not just because of all the women who are WINS awardees, which is a special community within itself,” Asmus said. “But SCinet is such a community. Everyone wants to see each other succeed and we all help each other grow and gain those skills.”

The IT industry has been lopsided and has skewed more male for a number of years. But efforts to bring more women into the workforce have helped, according to a report out earlier this year from the National Science Foundation

Between 2011 and 2021, the number of women who work in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, grew 30.9%, or more than double the rate of growth for male workers. Men still outnumbered women in STEM’s workforce nearly 2-to-1. Total growth of STEM’s workforce for all genders in the same period was 20.3%

WINS got its start around 2015 when Huntoon and Jason Zurawski, with the Department of Energy’s high-speed network ESNet, approached Marla Meehl because they’d noticed that few women participated in SCinet. Meehl, head of network engineering at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, jumped in and got National Science Foundation funding to help kick off a pilot in 2015. 

“Travel costs is real money,” Huntoon said. “For a lot of organizations, they’re paying the salaries for their staff anyway. As long as they can find people to cover (job duties), they can let them go. … But the hard part is actually the cost of the travel. And that’s what we’re really trying to do is cover that cost of the travel so it’s an easier decision for the organizations to send the women to participate.”

At SC23 in Denver last week, the group of volunteers that install the terabit-speed network for the supercomputing show include a growing number of women, thanks to travel grants from the Women in IT Networking at SC. Many WINS supporters and recipients are from Colorado. Pictured from left to right are key leaders and founders of WINS: Jason Zurawski, Brenna Meade, Kate, Marla Meehl, Scott Baily and Wendy Huntoon. (Jo Ramsey for SCinet)

Planning for the annual event takes several months and most of the team needs to be on site two to three weeks before the show starts to test equipment, install miles of fiber optic cables and make sure the technology is working. WINS estimates that’s a $7,500 to $10,000 expense per person, which smaller research organizations or colleges can’t spare. 

“Some organizations don’t have credit cards that take the load of a two-week hotel and per diem so we’ve worked around that to pay for hotels up front,” Meehl said. “And we’ve certainly become more aware of socioeconomic situations. … Not only are women missing in IT, but underrepresented minorities are really missing. We’ve been quite successful in broadening into Indigenous schools but also community colleges and historically Black schools.” 

Funding isn’t just from public grants anymore. Private sponsors include Ciena Corporation, Juniper Networks, as well as educational networks like Pacific Northwest GigaPoP and Indiana University. The hope is that employers will see value in financially supporting their female network engineers to participate in the experience and gain hands-on training, mentorship and professional development. 

“Brenna’s supported by IU (this year), and we hope that organizations find enough value that they continue to support them,” Meehl said. 

➔ ICYMI: The world’s fastest temporary internet service gets turned on in Denver for one week only. At 6.71 terabits per second, the internet speed will be 250,000 times faster than the average U.S. household. >> Read

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October unemployment rate up to 3.3%

Colorado’s October unemployment rate was up for the fourth consecutive month, hitting 3.3% from 3.2% in September. Similarly, the U.S. rate also was up one-tenth of a percentage point in the same period to 3.9%.

Ryan Gedney, the principal economist at the state’s Department of Labor and Employment, said Friday that while it’s something to keep track of, he said “the probability is still low” that a recession is nigh. He also expects data to be revised as more data comes in.

“I strongly believe based on the data we’re looking at that those estimates are also under counting employment and that will probably see the unemployment rate come down significantly,” Gedney said during a news conference. “That said, though, there are some areas of concern. … When the Federal Reserve does go through a process of trying to bring down inflation by increasing those federal fund rates, one of the byproducts of that is, historically, a higher unemployment rate and slower job gains. The point is to cool what is deemed as a hot economy.”

About 2,400 more Coloradans were unemployed in October than the prior month and the state’s labor force declined by 5,600 individuals, which means those folks are no longer working or looking for a job. But since July, the number of unemployed Coloradans per month was even higher, coming in at 3,666 unemployed in September, 4,735 in August and 3,415 in July.

Colorado’s labor force participation rate declined to 68.4%, the lowest since January. The state is still ranked fifth nationwide for the highest rate of adults who are part of the workforce. 

More from the October jobs report: 

  • Slowing job growth in the private sector: Private employers in Colorado are averaging 1,080 new jobs per month this year. That includes a loss of 100 jobs in September, instead of a gain of 1,500 (the revision is due to late business survey responses). In October, that number was negative again, with a loss of 200 jobs. However, the public sector added 1,700 government jobs bringing October job growth to 1,500 nonfarm payroll jobs. But compared to a year ago? Colorado’s private employers added 15,400 jobs, while government agencies added 2,300 in October 2022.

    Colorado’s job growth rate in the past year is 1.1% compared with the U.S. rate of 1.9%.
  • Who’s up, who’s down by industry for past 12 months through October:
    • Gains: Leisure and hospitality, up 17,000 jobs; educational and health services, up 8,000; professional and business, up 6,900.
    • Declines: Financial activities, down 7,500; construction, down 7,200; trade, transportation and utilities, down 6,900; information, down 300.
  • 56 Colorado counties had unemployment rates of 3.6% or lower. 
    • Pueblo had the highest metro-rate unemployment at 4.3%. Fort Collins had the lowest at 2.98%.
    • Highest unemployment rate by county: At 4.8%, Las Animas and Huerfano counties took the lead; Fremont was at 4.7% and Pueblo was at 4.3%.
    • Lowest by county: Jackson, 1.6%, Kit Carson, 1.8% and Phillips, 1.9%.

Thanksgiving dinner costs less than last year

Every year, the American Farm Bureau Federation sends out secret shoppers to scout grocery store prices to add up the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Even as consumer costs are still rising — though inflation is slowing, according to October inflation report — the typical turkey dinner with all the essentials is down 4.5% from last year. 

The traditional 12-item Thanksgiving menu for 10 people in 2023 is more affordable than last year. Prices for a 16-pound turkey and all the fixings fell 4.5% from 2022. The U.S. average price was $61.18, according to the American Farm Bureau. (Provided by National Turkey Federation)

A feast for 10 with a 16-pound turkey came in at $61.17, down from last year’s $64.05 tab. The turkey is taking a big part of the credit for lower costs (down 5.6%) because, remember last year? Avian influenza killed off flocks of chickens and turkeys, causing egg prices in Colorado to shoot up and turkey shortages

“Traditionally, the turkey is the most expensive item on the Thanksgiving dinner table,” Veronica Nigh, the bureau’s senior economist, said in a statement. “Turkey prices have fallen thanks to a sharp reduction in cases of avian influenza, which have allowed production to increase in time for the holiday.”

In the West region, which includes Colorado, the Thanksgiving meal price came in at $63.89, so higher than the national average but less than the Northeast. 

Turkey dinner for 10, based on grocery store prices in the week of Nov. 1-6 checked by American Farm Bureau Federation volunteers: 

  • 16-pound turkey: $27.35 or $1.71 per pound (down 5.6%)
  • 14 ounces of cubed stuffing mix: $3.77 (down 2.8%)
  • 2 frozen pie crusts: $3.50 (down 4.9%)
  • 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix: $4.44 (up 3.7%)
  • Half pint of whipping cream: $1.73 (down 22.8%)
  • 1 pound of frozen peas: $1.88 (down 1.1%)
  • 1 dozen dinner rolls: $3.84 (up 2.9%)
  • Misc. ingredients to prepare the meal: $3.95 (down 4.4%)
  • 1 gallon of whole milk: $3.74 (down 2.6%)
  • 3 pounds of sweet potatoes: $3.97 (up 0.3%)
  • 1-pound veggie tray (carrots & celery): 90 cents (up 2.3%)
  • 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries: $2.10 (down 18.3%)

Colorado Farm Bureau officials don’t tally up the cost for the meal based on local prices, but spokeswoman Melissa Weaver said the state’s farmers contribute most to wheat, potatoes and ham. So, if you go the route of Martha Stewart, who reportedly is “turkeyed out” this year, cooking a ham with mashed potatoes and a double-crust pie would be a very Colorado thing to do this Thanksgiving.

➔ Check out The Sun’s High Cost of Colorado series. We live here, too, so talking about how much prices have increased is something that’s on our minds. Did you know that eating out in Denver costs 28.2% more than it did in January 2020? Or that five common grocery items are up 35% in five years? And don’t get us started on tipping. It’s an ongoing series that will pop up periodically in upcoming weeks and months on our site. >> Read: “High Cost of Colorado”

Sun economy stories you may have missed

➔ Unbalanced state budget? That’s the takeaway that the state’s Legislative Council Staff concluded after looking at Gov. Jared Polis’ proposed spending plan for next year. Sun politics reporter Brian Eason breaks down the details. >> Read 

➔ Two mental health centers merge, creating largest in the state. WellPower and Jefferson Center announced that they will combine in July. The centers will be able to expand their resources and fill gaps in specialized care, Jennifer Brown reports. >> Read

Other working bits

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

➔ New unemployment claims taking 7-8 weeks to approve. Efforts to fix “integrity holds” for Coloradans filing unemployment claims have backed up the state’s system again, said Phil Spesshardt, the state labor department’s division director for unemployment insurance. Such holds are typically made when verifying the identity of folks filing a claim. It started back in the pandemic when unemployment systems nationwide were dealing with identity theft and fraudulent claims. “The goal would (be to get) back to 4 to 5 weeks by the end of the year,” Spesshardt said Friday. Those with holds are advised to call the department at 303-318-9000 or 1-800-388-5515. >> FAQs

➔ Elevating quantum, part 2. Now that Colorado is an official U.S. tech hub for quantum, the group that pushed for the designation has moved to the next phase: finding money to build it out. This week, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved $400,000 in funding to help the group, Elevate Quantum, put together an implementation plan to go after a $50 million to $75 million federal planning grant. Deadline to submit: February 2024. >> The pitch


➔ Colorado Legal Services gets two grants. The nonprofit organization helped a lot of Coloradans facing evictions during the pandemic. Now Colorado Legal Services is getting two technology grants: one for $283,631 to develop a self-help website and the second for $35,000 to assess its administrative processes and see if there’s room for improvement. The new self-help website is being developed by the Colorado Equal Justice Helper in collaboration with the Colorado Access to Justice Commission. It’s intended to help users get guided tools to address urgent needs. >> Award

➔ Colorado ranked 7th, 8th and 9th for nearly the same thing. At least three pitches in my inbox this week ranked the region in the top 10 nationwide for small businesses. The details are all over the place. A seventh-place rank was credited to 0.42% of the population having started a new business, according to the Digital Project Manager. Tied for eighth with Hawaii, Colorado’s “best states for business growth” nod is thanks to a low $50 filing fee to start a business, according to a consulting firm called Venture Smarter. Meanwhile, a LendingTree report had Denver coming in second on several measures: Workers “in their prime working years,” self-employed residents but also second-highest housing cost. Overall, Denver came in ninth nationwide for top places to start a small business.  

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...