The Pueblo area is on pace for a second year of virtually no job growth, according to updated employment figures released this week by the state Department of Labor.
The revised data also show Pueblo falling further behind the rate of job growth in the state's other metro areas, including Grand Junction, even though the gains in many of those places also were less than initial estimates.
The new data takes into account more information from employers than is used in the state's monthly job estimates. Pueblo's metro area encompasses all of Pueblo County. The state issues its revised data on a quarterly basis.
According to the report:
The Pueblo area added 400 nonfarm payroll jobs in the 12-month period ending in June, down from an initial estimate of 900 jobs.
And that slight gain may have been erased in subsequent months.
Based on preliminary counts for July through October, local employment fell during that period with October jobs count estimated at 62,100, down 600 from June and down 400 from a year earlier, the agency said.
The trend tracks with other local economic measures.
This year's spending activity in Pueblo was up only 1.4 percent through August, similar to last year's gain of 1.3 percent, based on city of Pueblo sales tax receipts. Population growth also has been slow, averaging around 1 percent per year. Last year, an estimated 1,641 people were added to nudge the county's population to 166,475.
The current slowdown follows a robust two-year period in 2015 and 2016 when Pueblo completed its recovery from the 2007-2009 U.S recession. The area added an average of 1,200 jobs a year between 2014 and 2016 and sales tax revenue surged by more than 7 percent in both 2015 and 2016.
Across the rest of the state, metro areas continue to report solid job growth.
The Grand Junction area's job market — similar in size to Pueblo's until last year — grew by 1,400 jobs to 64,300 during the 12-month period ending in June, according to the state. The figures matched preliminary estimates, the state said.
The Colorado Springs area grew by 5,800 jobs to 292,200, a growth rate revised sharply lower from initial estimates but still solid at 2 percent. Greeley posted the the state's fastest growth rate of 4.1 percent after adding 4,300 jobs and reporting total employment of 108,900.
A summary of the job gains and growth rates by metro area for the 12-month period ending in June: Greeley, 4,300, 4.1 percent; Boulder-Longmont, 6,700, 3.6 percent; Denver, 40,100, 2.7 percent; Grand Junction, 1,400, 2.3 percent; Fort Collins-Loveland, 3,400, 2.1 percent; Colorado Springs, 5,600, 2 percent; and Pueblo, 400, 0.7 percent.
Statewide, the revised data shows still solid job growth in Colorado but at a lower level than initial estimates. For the 12-month period ending in June, the state added 68,700 nonfarm payroll jobs, down from the estimate of 79,500. The growth rate of 2.6 percent was down from the estimate of 3 percent.
A further slowing of statewide job growth likely has taken place since June, the agency said. Based on preliminary counts since, Colorado's job growth rate was down to about 2.2 percent as of October, the agency said.
Pueblo leaders point to recent job announcements by produce processor Russ Davis Wholesale and prefabricated home supplier Key Structures along with a seasonal hiring bump by e-commerce services provider Radial as encouraging developments.
Longer term, Xcel Energy has announced plans to spend hundreds of million of dollars on a project that in coming years would include the building of solar farms to replace part of the coal-fired power at its Comanche power plant. The economic gain from the construction jobs will outweigh the power plant jobs to be eliminated, the utility says.
EVRAZ recently said it plans to decide by next year whether to pusue an estimated $500 million expansion and modernization of its Pueblo steel mill. The project would not necessarily result in more steelworker jobs but would protect the estimated 1,000 now in place.
Of concern longer term, the $4.5 billion plant to destroy chemical weapons at Pueblo Chemical Depot is in its last few years of operation. The project employs more than 1,000 workers. Work is ongoing on the PuebloPlex depot redevelopment project that seeks to find new uses for depot buildings and land.
The economy and jobs are expected to an issue for city of Pueblo voters when they go to the polls in January to choose the city's first mayor in more than 50 years.
The campaign between Steve Nawrocki and Nick Gradisar remains in its early stages but the two candidates were asked about Pueblo's economy as part of a series of candidate profiles by The Pueblo Chieftain in the run-up to the November vote that whittled the field of 16 mayoral candidates to the two finalists.
Candidates were asked for a brief response to the question "What is your plan to spur economic development in the city?"
Nawrocki responded: "I support the use of the half-cent sales tax for primary job creation while continuing to expand how that money gets used for existing local start-ups and new entrepreneurs. I am also committed to securing $1 million a year, of public and private monies, to re-brand Pueblo in recognition of our unique cultural and ethnic history.
Gradisar responded: "One of my plans is to make it easier, not harder to do business in the city. I propose that we develop policies that encourage housing developments that meet demands inside the city limits of Pueblo. I propose establishing an ombudsman in the mayor’s office to assist citizens and business navigate the labyrinth of agencies and rules and regulations that stymie development. I intend to encourage local entrepreneurs and small business to expand and will consider devoting a portion of the half-cent sales tax fund for entrepreneurs."