Metro Denver went from one of the strongest pre-pandemic economies to one of the weakest. So did Greeley, according to Brookings Metro. Pictured here is his empty 6th Avenue highway in April 2020.
Metro Denver boasted the 8th strongest economy heading into the pandemic, but two years later its economic rankings fell to 121st out of 192nd metro areas, the worst during the pandemic, according to a Brookings Metro survey. became one of the leading economies.
The region joined the ‘tested’ category of top half economic performers from 2011 to 2019, but slipped into the bottom half from 2019 to 2021. About 40% of very large metros, defined as having more than 1 million residents, moved into the tested category. The group includes New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston and San Diego.
“There are many theories, but not many firm answers as to why. In a very large metropolis, this tremendous growth has continued and has become an increasingly concentrated place of economic activity. Denver, It was a symbol of that inclusive growth,” said Joseph Barilla, Fellow and Director of Applied Research at the Brookings Metro Monitor and co-author of the study.
Brookings looked at three indicators for each of the four categories, including typical indicators such as employment growth, GDP growth, wage growth, productivity and employment rate. There was also a racial inclusion category to measure disparities in employment, income and poverty between various groups.
Very large metropolitan areas dropped in the rankings, but many neighboring metropolitan areas, defined as having populations between 500,000 and 1 million, rose in the rankings. One reason is that workers may have benefited from lower housing costs, which they found more attractive as they were now free to move further afield.
Colorado Springs’ ranking rose from 119th to 6th, largely mirroring Denver’s drop, making it one of the top metros economically despite the turmoil of COVID-19. One explanation is that El Paso County relies heavily on federal and military spending, which has not been hit as severely as other areas such as tourism, healthcare, and retail.
Colorado Springs was included in the urgent category, along with Fort Collins, which rose from 126th to 26th on the Brookings Economic Rankings. Emerging metropolises are defined as the rise of the bottom half of performers to the top half in the last decade.
Metro Greeley, which covers all of Weld County, was also in the tested category, moving from near the bottom at 53rd to 190th. Many oil and gas hubs have seen their economies severely tested by lower oil prices, Barrira said, and drilling activity has declined. Weld County, once a top performer in job growth and wage gains, also stands out for still failing to make up for the job losses caused by the pandemic.
Boulder was in the resilient category. So its economy was in the top half pre-pandemic and stayed there during tough times. Boulder’s standings did not fluctuate much, going from 14th to 22nd. It was strong and stayed strong.
At the other extreme is the stagnant subway, which was doing poorly both before and during the pandemic. Their misery levels tended not to vary much. Most of the stagnating large cities are in the Midwest and Northeast and were once dependent on manufacturing. None of his five metros in Colorado surveyed were considered stalled.
Barrira said growth has been concentrated in very large metropolitan areas, especially in the western half of the country, making it difficult to provide enough housing for the growing population. That caused home prices and rents to skyrocket, contributing to population decline during the pandemic, especially in core urban areas like Denver County.
“The Denver metropolitan area has many fundamentals that have led to a strong economy, and I don’t think this will derail its strong economic trajectory,” Barilla said. “We will need more time to confirm if this is just a temporary issue or if it is a more serious issue.”