Report: COVID impacts spread disproportionately through Front Range biz segments

DENVER — While the COVID-19 pandemic affected every life and business in the Denver metro area and beyond, those impacts disproportionately hurt certain segments while elevating others.

That’s one of the main takeaways from a new report from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., which represents nine Front Range counties, including the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado regions.

Specifically, the report examines the region’s economy over the past year through nine industry clusters: aviation, aerospace, bioscience, digital communications, energy and natural resources, financial services, hospitality and tourism, food and beverage, health and wellness, and IT.

Unsurprisingly, the hospitality and tourism industry felt the brunt of the pandemic’s blow as many restaurants were shuttered for at least a portion of the last year. About 45% of the jobs lost in the region fell within this sector, the report said. 

“Denver has dealt with fires, floods, depressions, recessions and now a pandemic, and each time we have faced tough times, we have emerged as a better, more resilient city,” Visit Denver CEO Richard W. Scharf said in a statement that accompanied the report. “Tourism is important to our economy and, as a community, we will get through this together and be at the forefront of the recovery.”

In addition to hospitality, employment fell in the aviation, digital communications, health and wellness, and energy sectors.

But even among the industries hurt, the impacts were disproportionate, with 80% of job losses happening to low-wage workers. 

The region’s aerospace industry performed the best over the past year, growing employment by 11.2%, according to the report. 

“Aerospace companies in Colorado are well positioned to weather the adversity of COVID-19 in the short- to mid-term,” the report said. “Demand has been minimally impacted since budgets for aerospace projects were allocated prior to the pandemic and many space-related projects are critical to national defense.”

Another bright spot was biotechnology, an industry with a major presence in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado university towns. 

“More than 40 Colorado companies, along with academic and research institutions, pivoted in 2020 to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19, including Boulder-based Biodesix and Lakewood-based Terumo Blood & Cell Technologies, among others,” the report said. “Additionally, strong growth in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology subcluster (+4.6% between 2019 and 2020) due to advancements and developments related to COVID-19 contributed to overall growth in the cluster.”

While highlighting some successes over the course of the pandemic, the report noted that the region is not out of the woods yet, and work to prepare for a recovery still needs to be done. 

“The efforts of our business community to diversify, grow and engage more people in our economy are paying dividends during this time of economic challenge,” Metro Denver EDC CEO J.J. Ament said in a prepared statement. “We entered the pandemic with the nation’s best economy, and while so many in our community have been negatively impacted by COVID, the foundation of our economy is strong and will recover.”

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