Three big Adams County projects means 3,400 new jobs and questions about how to fill them

By ALDO SVALDI | [email protected] | The Denver Post
August 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

Three big projects in Adams County will lead to the hiring of around 3,400 workers in a four-month window in the coming weeks. But with the metro area’s unemployment rate scratching historic lows, there’s a risk those efforts could devolve into a scavenger hunt.

“I can’t recall a time where we had so many large employers moving into the area at the same time seeking such a large number of employees,” said Tricia Allen, a senior vice president and 18-year veteran at Adams County Economic Development.

Amazon has built a new robotic fulfillment center at I-25 and 144th Avenue in Thornton, but it still needs 1,500 humans to help get online orders into boxes for shipping. Hiring started in July for an opening later this month. The fulfillment center, spanning 855,000 square feet and four levels, needs to be game-day ready for the holiday rush.

A few blocks to the south, traditional retailers at the Denver Premium Outlets are trying to find 500 workers ahead of a late September opening. That number will grow as seasonal hires come on to handle the extra shoppers who show up in November and December.

And if those two weren’t enough, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center south of Denver International Airport in Aurora needs to staff 1,400 jobs, with most of the hires coming in November. Of the numerous tasks he faces in getting the state’s largest hotel open, general manager Rick Medwedeff said that hiring enough qualified help is what keeps him up at night.

“We are counting down to a mid-December soft opening,” said Patty Daugherty, director of human resources at the Gaylord Rockies. “We will be hosting hiring events in November and attending some community events in October. We believe the opportunity to be a star (employee) at a Gaylord Hotel is a significant opportunity that should attract applicants.”

Adams County had 8,717 unemployed workers out of a labor force of 272,623 in July, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Over the past year, the number of employed workers in the country is up by nearly 8,000.

Having three employers create 4,300 jobs in such a short period could send ripples through existing retailers, hotels and warehouses across the metro region. To the degree that Adams County workers take new jobs closer to home, employers in surrounding counties could find themselves having to backfill.

“We recognize that most, if not all, of the applicants will be currently employed,” said Daugherty. “We are allowing them time to give sufficient notice.” The key, she said, is to keep them engaged until the time comes for them to jump over to the Marriott International/Gaylord fold.

A tough task ahead

Both Amazon and Simon Premium Outlets will be seeking thousands of employees to fill positions in the next months at their locations, seen here on Aug. 22, 2018 in Thornton.

Judging by some recent job fairs, filling the quota won’t be easy. Amazon held a hiring event for two weeks in July and drew 811 people, Allen said. Of those, 361 were offered jobs, but she doesn’t know how many offers were accepted.

“We consider that a success with a 45 percent placement rate,” Allen said. Even if all those offered a job took one, that represents just a quarter of the headcount Amazon needs. An Amazon representative didn’t respond to a request for an update on the company’s hiring efforts.

The Denver Premium Outlets hosted a job fair on Aug. 16 at the Westin Hotel in Westminster to jumpstart the effort to fill 500 slots. More than 55 retailers set up tables and prepared to meet and interview applicants when the doors opened at 9 a.m. They waited, and waited, and waited.

“It has been very slow,” said Lesli Borders, a senior regional recruiter with Guess. Five hours into the job fair, she estimated fewer than 100 people had shown up.
Jolene Bracy, the outlet’s director of marketing and business development, put the number closer to 300, adding the flow was steady and the quality of the candidates good.

Retailers, like attendees at a speed dating event, conceded that job hunters had a lot of choices and didn’t get their hopes up too much as job seekers like Westminster resident Holly Lovato and her daughter Ashlee glided from table to table to gather details before moving on.

“Having an outlet close means more time at home,” said Holly Lovato, who was looking forward to a shorter commute. Her high school age daughter, by contrast, was more interested in the discounts she could get from her favorite retailers like Old Navy.

With wages and benefits often comparable for part-time sales associates, retailers were counting on perks like employee discounts and an affinity for their brands to snag applicants.

“I have no doubt we will hit it. I have the upmost confidence,” Jason Miller, district manager for American Eagle Outfitters in Colorado, said of his efforts to hire 30 part-time associates. American Eagle offers 60 percent off on its apparel to employees, and regularly runs contests where they can win items. Miller said he viewed the job fair as a place to touch base with candidates, some of whom had applied online, rather than a place where he would hire on the spot.

At the neighboring table for Ann Taylor Factory & Loft Outlet stores, Julie Judd, the district manager for Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, and three of her staff talked about the strong peer-to-peer relationships the brands cultivate among their workers and an emphasis on empowering women. “We are all about helping women and children” Judd said, adding Ann Taylor provides a work culture that includes closer interaction with customers and fun with co-workers.

She also acknowledged metro Denver’s tight labor market has made hiring tougher here than in other cities and has changed the behavior of job seekers. About a quarter of applicants who make the cut don’t show up for scheduled interviews, a practice known as ghosting.

“They are no-call, no-show,” she said. She suspects that’s because applicants have found other jobs. If employers want to hire someone, they need to move quickly after an application comes in, she said.

The tables turn
For decades, Adams County has served as a bedroom community for workers who earned their living elsewhere. And it has lacked the retail and restaurant options found in other more well-off counties.

Thornton resident Sherrie Perl said having big brand retailers move in, not to mention a major employer like Amazon, shows that is changing. Perl watched for months as the Denver Premium Outlets rose from the ground near her home. She showed up at the job fair looking for a management position at one of the stores.
“This is something grand and it is needed,” she said. Perl said she also applied with Amazon, but they offered her a graveyard shift, which she declined. Amazon’s job site for Denver lists only night shifts available.

Allen said worker shortages have caused employers to consider hiring people they might have passed over in the past, including those with criminal convictions, the homeless, and the disabled. “We are getting our employers to focus on those populations who have unemployment rates that are double, triple or quadruple the county unemployment rate,” she said.

Improving transit is one way employers can boost their appeal, Allen said. RTD doesn’t have many bus routes north of 120th Avenue and Amazon is working with Smart Commute Metro North to improve the situation.

Gaylord is offering a free shuttle that runs three times an hour for both its hotel guests and its employees to the nearby rail station at 61st Avenue and Pena Boulevard, Daugherty said.

More information on jobs at Amazon’s Thornton facility is available at amazon.com/ denverjobs. Those interested in working at the Gaylord Rockies can learn more at gaylordrockies.com/careers. Denver Premium Outlet jobs are listed at denverpojobfair.splashthat.com.

For more information contact:
Thornton Economic Development Office
303-538-7605 · [email protected]