Rocky Mountain Low
At least 675 workers will hear by the end of the week that they will be losing their jobs once regulators approve the company's merger with Comcast. The merger is expected to close by the end of the year. The remaining 1,025 job cuts will be announced in the next couple of months, after the merger is official.
“Any massive layoff where a thousand people are let go at once is never good for a city,” says Stephen Miller, vice president and chief economist for the Southeast Business Partnership, an economic-development organization based in Denver. “But the city itself has lost a lot here, too. AT&T Broadband has been a good corporate neighbor, contributing to charities and culture in the city.”
But AT&T Broadband isn’t the only telecom/cable company to lay off workers in the Denver area. Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) has eliminated roughly 6,000 jobs in Colorado over the last two years. Last year the carrier announced a total of 11,000 layoffs. It announced another 2,000 in April, according to the company. Both sets of layoffs incorporated workers in all 14 states where Qwest operates. The company’s total head count is currently around 55,000, with about 12,000 of those employees in the Denver area. Qwest has stated publicly that it has no further job cuts planned for the near future.
Denver, once known for its cable broadband presence, no longer has the same cachet. The metro area used to be home to several significant cable players including Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), which was acquired by AT&T in 1999. Other cable-related companies like Time Warner Cable, A&E Television, Ncube, WinFirst (a high speed access company), and Showtime have also either left the area or have greatly reduced headcounts.
But even though the news looks rather bleak for cable and telecom workers in the area, economists say things aren’t as bad as they may appear.
Take AT&T Broadband’s situation as an example. Despite the cuts, roughly 70 percent, or 4,000, of AT&T Broadband’s workforce will remain in Colorado, because their jobs were not made redundant by the merger. The 2,000 call-center employees in Denver will also not lose their jobs. And three of the company’s Denver area facilities -- the digital media centers, network operations center, and customer care center -- will not be affected by the merger. AT&T Broadband employs 40,000 workers; Comcast, 38,000.
Most of the AT&T workers that will be laid off will include those from finance, accounting, information technology, human resources, sales, marketing, public relations, legal, and corporate services.
“I think people tend to look at the industry when layoffs occur as opposed to the occupations that are being laid off," says Miller. “A lot of these workers have jobs that are transferable to other industries.”
This is seen as a good thing, considering that the Denver area is home to many companies outside the telecom and technology sector. Tea manufacturer Celestial Seasonings is headquartered in Boulder. Coors Brewing Company is also a large Denver area employer. And the city is home to two major airlines, United and Frontier. Despite their economic troubles, they still employ thousands in the area.
What’s more, Denver is still below the national unemployment average. As of August of this year, the Denver metro area recorded 5.2 percent unemployment compared with the 5.7 percent national unemployment figure, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Denver had had historic low unemployment rates 18 months ago, with some surrounding counties only reporting 1 to 3 percent unemployment rates.
In Arapahoe County, where AT&T Broadband is headquartered, the unemployment rate was only 4.8 percent in August of 2002. Theoretically, if none of the 1,700 workers were to find a job, it would only increase the unemployment rate in that county by one tenth of one percent, says Miller.
One Qwest worker who didn’t want to be named agrees with Miller’s assessment that things aren’t so bad. She moved out to Denver four years ago from San Francisco and says that many of the people she has known who have been laid off in telecom have found jobs in other industries.
“Denver is more diverse than, say the Bay Area,” she says. “There’s a lot more to offer than just telecom and technology.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading