DENVER (CBS4) – Amazon announced Tuesday it will create 400 new tech jobs expanding its presence in the city. Local leaders say the gain of high skilled positions is a result of the pitch to bring the company’s second headquarters to Colorado, but also reveals the work still needed to have a pipeline of local talent for the industry.
“I chose it because it’s a field that’s going to be growing,” said Elizabeth Gutierrez, a University of Denver freshman from Denver. “I felt like Computer Science was the best option for me.”
The Colorado native chose DU to stay close to home and says the curriculum on a quarter system helps prepare students for jobs in the tech sector. Gutierrez thinks Amazon bringing more jobs to her hometown is a great development for the city. She says she would consider working there after graduation.
“That means there will be more job opportunities, not just in technology but other fields as well,” Gutierrez said. “It’s really cool that all these companies are coming here, I don’t feel like I have to move.”
J.B. Holston is the dean of the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science at DU. He believes the announcement shows a vote of confidence in the region by Amazon but also says there is a lack of talent in Colorado that is holding companies back from a larger presence.
“I think the fact that Amazon has decided to grow in the city, in Denver in particular, is in an affirmation in their interest and support for what’s going on generally in this area,” he said. “The reason we didn’t get HQ2 in no small part was because we don’t have the kind of local talent pipeline that a lot of these other places have.”
He helped work on the proposal to sell Amazon on opening its second headquarters in Denver. While the city lost the bid, he says the experience helped the company to see the potential for smaller opportunities in the short term and opens the door for larger expansions in the future.
“We as a group have to collectively step up and make that pipeline bigger,” Holston said. “It’s an all Colorado issue, it’s isn’t just any one particular university.”
Holston is leading a commission with other universities in Colorado and Sen. Michael Bennett on Artificial Intelligence. It is one way the state can better prepare its current population to be competitive for future openings and attract other employers. The talent pool isn’t just for workers but also educators. Holston says by increasing Amazon’s presence, universities can attract faculty in lucrative fields to teach part time if they’re already working in the city.
Other universities like the University of Colorado Denver also applauded the move by Amazon and said the timing complements the re-branding of their engineering school. Leaders say they want their degree programs to reflect the needs of employers who are bringing these skilled, tech jobs to Colorado.
“The college puts emphases on computing to provide our grads with cutting edge technology capabilities in AI, robotics and VR/AR. The emphasis on design allows our students to grow their creativity muscles and create value with cutting edge tech solutions,” Martin Dean said in an email, dean of CU Denver’s College of Engineering, Design, and Computing.
The City and County of Denver also celebrated the increase in jobs by Amazon pointing to the “tech cluster” established over several years. City leaders say companies like Amazon are looking for communities where they get the kind of support need to grow and expend their business. Amazon said it believes there is the talent needed to support these jobs and Denver is one of several cities where it believes it can have a continued presence.
“We’re excited to continue to grow and invest in the Denver area,” Dave Wood said in a news release, Site Lead for Amazon’s Denver Tech Hub. “Our new office will offer our teams the convenience of a downtown location with an array of outdoor adventures just up the road.”
Amazon plans to move into 1515 Wynkoop in the city’s Lower Downtown neighborhood. It will be one of 17 “tech hub” locations in North America. The company hopes the building will be ready by the end of the year. It will eventually house existing tech workers as well as the new hires included in the announcement.
Not all future engineers are looking to work for Amazon but they still see the value in the company adding jobs in Colorado.
“I feel like my skill set, if I want to work for Amazon in Denver I can, if I want to take it somewhere else, I can,” said Christian Anton, a junior majoring in Computer Science at DU.
He moved to Colorado from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The appeal of Colorado that brought him to DU could keep him in town for work but he says there are other factors he will consider after graduation. Work-Life Balance and a company’s social standing as well as business practices are important considerations for Anton. He isn’t sure Amazon is the right fit for him but knows it can bring more talent to the region and helps anyone already working in the industry locally.
“We need to broaden the pipeline even earlier than the point of when people getting into college,” Holston told CBS4. “Everybody is ramping up that pipeline big time.”
The DU administrator says there will always be challenges with rapid growth but he would like to see Amazon in town and as a partner to tackle those problems. It’s motivation to keep improving the talent in Colorado, not just at four-year institutions but at other colleges and a student’s primary education. He knows Colorado can already fill most of those 400 positions but would like to see it capable of attracting 4,000 jobs from a company like Amazon.
His students say that regardless of the competition from outside Colorado, they feel prepared and know they’re qualified to pursue these tech jobs already in town.
“That would be really cool to work for a company like Amazon,” Gutierrez said. “I think we’re up for the challenge.”