Colorado Springs employers are as optimistic about their hiring plans in the fourth quarter as they were a year ago, according to a survey from staffing giant ManpowerGroup.

Manpower’s net employment outlook for Colorado Springs — the difference between the percentage of employers planning to hire more staff and those expecting cuts — nearly doubled from the previous two quarters to 17%, the same outlook as the fourth quarter of 2019. Manpower said 26% of local employers plan to hire more people during the October-to-December period, while 9% expect to reduce staff. The remaining 65% weren't planning any change in staffing levels or weren't sure.

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"This is kind of lackluster coming off a shutdown. I would have expected a higher percentage outlook, in the 25% range, given we are trying to recover from a recession or depression. Many businesses stopped operating or were operating at a much lower capicity during the pandemic," said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum.

That recovery from the previous two quarters, when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading into Colorado and triggered a stay-at-home order that forced many businesses to close or reduce operations, is more rapid than either the statewide or national outlook. The Colorado outlook for the fourth quarter, 13%, was still down from 15% a year ago, while the national outlook, a seasonally adjusted 14%, was down from 20% in the fourth quarter of 2019. The survey was conducted in July with 8,700 employers.

The Colorado Springs area unemployment rate recovered to 6.8% in July from a record 12.6% in April, but still has a long way to drop back to the 2.9% rate reached in February, before the pandemic spread widely in Colorado. Nearly 24,000 area residents remain out of work, or more than double the 10,500 who were unemployed in February. Nearly 80,000 people in the area have filed claims for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

The Colorado Springs outlook was tied for 20th best with Greensboro, N.C., among the nation's 100 largest areas and was more than double Denver's 8% outlook. Among the metro areas with the five best hiring outlooks, both Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., and Little Rock, Ark., had significantly better outlooks than a year earlier, while the outlooks in Knoxville, Tenn., and Springfield, Mass., were better in the fourth quarter of 2019 than the upcoming quarter. Nationwide, just 25% of employers expect to return to previous hiring levels by January.

Locally, employers in nearly every economic sector anticipated additional hiring; those in manufacturing and retailing expected no change. Nationwide, employers in the tourism and restaurant industries had the most bullish outlook, followed by transportation, utilities and retailing; government and other services had the least optimistic outlook. No sector either in the local or national survey had a negative employment outlook.

“Though we still have a long way to go to recover from what started as a health crisis and has evolved to a social and economic crisis, it is encouraging to see optimistic outlooks in some of the industries most heavily impacted including leisure, retail and manufacturing," Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America said in a news release. “We also see employers recognize this recovery will take longer than they initially thought and many are adapting work models for the long term."

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