Denver gets $423,000 to help workers find retail jobs. Finding positions with a living wage will be “a challenge.”

Denver was awarded a new grant earlier this month that’s expected to help connect about 350 people with jobs in the city’s rapidly growing retail industry.

Grace Tan, right, bags up a grocery purchase for Angela Coffer and her daughters at a Gladstone, Missouri Walmart. (Courtesy of Walmart)
Grace Tan, right, bags up a grocery purchases for Angela Coffer and her daughters at a Gladstone, Mo. Walmart. (Courtesy of Walmart)
Grace Tan, right, bags up a grocery purchase for Angela Coffer and her daughters at a Gladstone, Missouri Walmart. (Courtesy of Walmart)

Denver was awarded a new grant earlier this month that’s expected to help connect about 350 people with jobs in the city’s rapidly growing retail industry.

How many of those people will find livable wages as cashiers, sales associates and other retail employees remains to be seen.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced Thursday that Denver’s Office of Economic Development is getting $422,652 as part of the Walmart Foundation’s push to attract more people to retail jobs and help those already in the industry move up the ladder.

The city plans to use the money to provide worker training, job placement assistance and ongoing services once people are hired.

“There about 12,000 people who are looking for work in the city,” Hancock said. “We need to make sure there are opportunities for them.”

So far, the city is working to get employees hired at King Soopers, the Stanley Market and the Denver International Airport.

“We’re continuing to recruit employers, so we expect this roster to grow,” said Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the city’s Office of Economic Development.

Given that only about 3 percent of Denver’s workforce is jobless, employers across the board are struggling to find workers.

“Employers are having to compete harder for employees, particularly in areas where skills are easily transferable,” said Laura Argys, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver.

There were at least 1,146 retail jobs open Wednesday in Denver, according to state data.

“The unemployment rate tends to create competition first. If there’s enough competition, you expect to see wages rise,” Argys said.

Finding workers a livable wage is “certainly going to be a challenge in retail,” said Paul Washington, executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development.

“Over 50 percent of the entry-level retail positions, by our analysis, pay at least $17 an hour. We think a livable wage is around $18 an hour, so you can certainly start at entry level and earn a livable wage,” Washington said.

What he didn’t say was that nearly 50 percent of retail workers are being paid less than $17 and that a recent report shows full-time sales associates can’t afford to live in Denver.

Another way to help retail workers find higher pay is to help them climb the corporate ladder, Washington said. The city plans to help people do that.

Denver was one of 10 cities that were awarded a total of $3.4 million from The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. The partnership was awarded $10.9 million from the Walmart Foundation in March.

As part of receiving grant money, Denver is starting a retail sector partnership to discuss staffing hurdles the industry is facing. That focus group kicked off Thursday.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

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Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.