Companies get creative due to Denver’s talent war

Net migration to Colorado is slowing, according to the Colorado Department and Labor

Frederic de Loizaga
Vice president, CBRE

A thriving economy is what all of us in business hope for, but there is no doubt that Denver’s robust growth also is creating many challenges for companies. At the top of this list, and permeating all industries, is the competitive nature of today’s labor market and the battle to retain and attract employees.

Colorado reached its peak unemployment level of 8.9% in September 2010. By June 2013, statewide employment had once again surpassed its prerecession peak, and in 2017 Colorado’s unemployment bottomed out at 2.7%. While this number currently sits at about 3.4%, Colorado’s unemployment rate remains below the national average.

These figures reflect the attractive business environment and lifestyle Colorado offers, which is why companies like Vertafore, VF Corp. and Slack – to name a few – are making big entrances into the state. While Colorado’s economy continues to flourish due to both in-migration of new companies and organic growth, the ability for companies to continue to expand or merely fill needed positions is being stalled by the lack of available labor. While there is no “one size fits all” solution to this problem, we have seen many companies become employee-centric through specific organizational changes and in how they think of and use their physical office space.

“The Denver metro area has become even more competitive for the best people,” said Keith Larson, a long-time Denver business executive and current CFO at AllHealth Network. “We have worked very hard to attract and retain employees. The key is to create a culture that makes people feel valued.”

Creating the type of culture Larson refers to often is easier said than done, but no matter the approach a company takes to create it, the changes must focus on the professional and personal fulfillment of the employees.

Providing competitive pay comparable to industry peers, increased benefit packages, rewards programs for healthy lifestyles, flexible work schedules, increased transparency between management and staff regarding company goals and financial results, and providing employees at all levels with increased training and development opportunities are some of the most common changes we are seeing.

From the perspective of Jennifer Ludwig, deputy director at Tri-County Health Department, she is, “willing to try anything,” she said. “It’s expensive to lose people.”

For example, at Tri-County Health they have instituted an “infant at the workplace” policy, which allows parents to bring their child to the office up to six months old or until they are mobile. This has been extremely successful in maintaining productivity and making it easier for new parents to balance work and life priorities.

In addition to organizational changes, companies also are no longer viewing their office space solely as a place where people come to work. Instead, they are using it to create an environment that enhances culture and productivity, increases personal connectivity, and retains and attracts employees.

“The working environment is one of many areas where we are presented an opportunity to differentiate ourselves,” said Ken Urbanek, principal at IMEG. “This differentiator can be a highly positive experience for the employees, both current and prospective. In this competitive market, it is critical that every opportunity to distinguish your company is utilized. Providing a healthy work environment, such as our WELL Gold certified space, for the betterment of our employees is something we could really get behind, and it is something that attracts employees to work with MKK, now IMEG.”

Larson echoed Urbanek’s feedback. “We are upgrading our facilities to make sure they are more employee-friendly, collaborative and modern in style,” he said of the AllHealth Network.

Some of the most common design changes include creating more collaborative areas, increasing light exposure to all employees, less egalitarian layouts (i.e., uniform office sizes, offices on the interior instead of window line, cubes for all employees regardless of title), access to healthy food and drink and customizing a space to reflect one’s brand and culture. Companies are investing a significant amount of time and resources to listen to what their employees want and then implementing a customized plan to make sure they are catering to their needs as best as possible.

Ultimately, there is no single solution to combat the challenge of a shrinking workforce, but with unemployment holding steady at all-time lows and net migration to the state slowing, this battle is not going to end any time soon. One thing that is clear is that there will be winners and losers, and those companies that are unwilling to listen to what their workforce is craving and make changes are going to be left behind.

Featured in CREJ’s June 2019 Office Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.