Financial services, an important but volatile source of jobs in metro Denver over the years, is making a strong comeback after being left for dead in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Following a nearly five-year streak of job losses, financial-services providers began consistently increasing employment in the metro area last April. By December, they were adding jobs at a robust 5.7 percent annual pace, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The momentum is continuing into 2013. In an eight-day span this month, state economic-development officials announced four deals with the potential to bring nearly 2,000 additional financial-sector jobs to metro Denver over the next several years.
"It comes across as though someone has released the bow strings," said Tom Clark, chief executive of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
The four companies all cite the region's highly educated workforce, a deep reservoir of financial expertise and a business-friendly climate as reasons for adding jobs in the metro area.
Redwood Trust, a San Francisco-area real-estate investment trust, made the largest announcement — 552 jobs over five years. The firm invests in jumbo mortgages and wants to move into the much larger conventional market, an expansion that will benefit Colorado.
Boston-based Fidelity Investments plans to create 500 jobs, including about 200 in the next year, at a new service center opening this July, said Chris Sorensen, national general manager for the investment giant.
Charles Schwab expects to add another 480 jobs locally over five years as it builds a $230 million campus in Lone Tree to bring together more of the 2,000 workers it already has in the metro area, said spokeswoman Sarah Bulgatz.
Visa, a dominant brand in electronic payments, plans to add 406 jobs to an existing technology center, hires that will come on top of the 700 workers it already has here, said spokeswoman Erica Harvill.
Three of the four companies are tapping a program, approved in 2009, that provides state income-tax credits for jobs that might have gone elsewhere and that pay above the average wage of the surrounding county.
For example, the Redwood Trust jobs carry an average wage of $66,847. If all 552 come to fruition, the state would gain a $37 million annual payroll in return for providing $5.4 million worth of credits.
Fidelity, which isn't seeking the job credits, may tap about $400,000 in state job-training funds if it can't find enough workers with securities licenses and other skills.
"We started our search nationwide primarily around four dimensions: workforce, demographics, cost of living and cost of doing business," Sorensen said.
Metro Denver won that race and will join Fidelity's five existing service centers across the country.
All of the proposed jobs are landing in the DTC-Inverness corridor, with three of the four falling within Douglas County. Three of the four companies adding jobs are based in California, where taxes and living costs are higher.
Douglas County has worked hard to expedite its permitting and approval process so businesses can get launched quickly, said County Commissioner Jill Repella.
The county also offers a full exemption on its share of the business personal-property tax, which has proved appealing.
"It is really the pro-business climate we have in Douglas County," she said of a long string of recent successes.
Even if they find Colorado attractive for similar reasons, the firms offer different explanations for their expansions.
Redwood Trust is banking on a recovery in the private mortgage market as the federal government reconsiders how much housing debt it is willing to shoulder.
At the same time, big banks face caps on the capital they can dedicate to mortgages, so they are shifting their focus to existing customers and leaving an opening for independent players.
Demographic trends are boosting business at investment firms such as Fidelity and Schwab, as more baby boomers seek financial advice to deal with retirement. The stock-market recovery also helps.
And Visa continues to benefit from the conversion to the "cashless" society as more transactions take place on credit and debit cards.
Metro Denver has long had a reputation as a financial-services hub, one that has survived the vagaries of the market.
Over the years, the area has hosted many mutual-fund groups — Berger, Founders, Invesco, Janus and Marsico. OppenheimerFunds and TIAA-CREF have built major support centers here serving their clients.
Metro Denver was also an early player in electronic transactions, with Rocky Mountain Bankcard and Diners Club. For several years, First Data was based here.
The 1980s real-estate crash contributed to local expertise in resolving troubled mortgages, and several mortgage firms built on that knowledge base, including Aurora Loan Services.
Given how cyclical finance can be, there are no guarantees that the firms will create the jobs promised or that the hiring trend will continue.
Merrill Lynch opened a large regional center in the Meridian area in the 1990s with great fanfare, but its workforce of more than 2,000 here withered after the tech crash and Sept. 11 attacks.
When Merrill Lynch offered relocation packages to 1,040 workers remaining at its regional center in January 2002, only a third took the offer.
That is one reason metro Denver has managed to retain its base of financial expertise over the years, Clark said. People simply don't want to leave. Firms that weather the downturns start hiring again, and new companies find their way to the talent base.