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Emigrés find grass is greener in Denver

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Those who are packing up their families and moving to Denver do it for reasons that often come down to cash: The pay is better, the variety and types of jobs available are plentiful, and the ability to snare promotions and move up careerwise can be too hard to pass up.

But people across a variety of age groups and professions say there’s more: vibrant neighborhoods in Denver that offer restaurants, breweries and an active nightlife; professional sports teams; networking and career development for young people, and proximity to mountains and outdoor activities.

Here’s a look at some of the emigrés and their stories:

BRANDON AND KAYLA GILMORE

The Gilmores both left Albuquerque because the opportunities in Denver were unmatched.

Brandon Gilmore, 31, was laid off at Intel in Rio Rancho and is now working as a financial analyst at MillerCoors. His wife, 27-year-old Kayla Gilmore, said she had difficulty finding a well-paying job in Albuquerque, even with a master’s in business degree. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Brandon, 31, lost his job at Intel last year during one of the rounds of layoffs the company has had at its Rio Rancho plant. His specialized field of finance and accounting in the manufacturing field meant that even with the help of a job search firm, he was able to find fewer than 10 openings in Albuquerque that interested him, and those would mean “making significantly less money than I was making at Intel.”

“Albuquerque is a smaller city, obviously, but there’s just not as many jobs,” he said.

Now, he’s a financial analyst at MillerCoors.

His wife, Kayla, said she has a master’s of business degree and experience in sales but was disheartened when she unsuccessfully looked for jobs in Albuquerque that would pay at least $50,000 a year.

“I wasn’t expecting some six-figure job right out of the gate,” said Kayla, 27. “But I figured with my (MBA), I warranted a step up. I felt like I shouldn’t have to be struggling this hard to find a moderate-paying job with decent benefits in my field.”

KINSEY DURHAM

While software engineer Kinsey Durham misses certain things about Albuquerque, she praises the professional opportunities in Denver as well as the outdoor lifestyle. She is shown here fly-fishing west of Denver. (Courtesy of Kinsey Durham)

A software engineer, Albuquerque native Kinsey Durham went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and never moved back.

The 27-year-old is writing code for a startup in Denver and says she “sees so many people I know from high school and Albuquerque,” many of whom are working in the tech industry.

Durham wanted to make clear that she misses certain things about Albuquerque – family, food, ethnic diversity – but not enough to give up the networking events and other tech-related benefits of living in Denver.

“There are so many people here in a similar mindset,” she said. “It’s just the energy … the career opportunities.”

Durham also loves fly-fishing so the “outdoor culture” of the Denver area is another big draw.

KEVIN AND TRISH TAYLOR

Accountant Kevin Taylor has seen pay raises and promotions in the several years his family has been living in Denver – opportunities he says he would not have had in Albuquerque. At left is wife Trish Taylor and 15-month-old son Zeke. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Kevin, a 35-year-old Santa Fe native, left his job as an accountant with a large Albuquerque accounting company after the law firm his wife, Trish, worked for raised her health insurance deductible to an unaffordable $10,000. That was in 2013.

Kevin said he unsuccessfully tried to find work in Albuquerque, including positions with a number of government agencies that were taking months to hire.

“I honestly felt there was no point,” he said. “I couldn’t find anyone to even consider me, and I had an awesome résumé.” Trish, also an accountant, said she found more than 200 jobs in Denver for which she was qualified, compared to only a few openings in Albuquerque.

Kevin’s first job in the Denver area, an accounting position at an electronics manufacturing firm, brought him a $20,000 bump in pay to $70,000. He has moved up to a new job he took two months ago, earning $95,000 and managing a staff of accountants.

The opportunities and the benefits, including a company-purchased, light-rail pass that allowed the couple to sell one of their cars, compensated for the “ridiculous housing market,” he said.

The Taylors’ costs skyrocketed from $1,150 month for a two-bedroom house in Albuquerque to $1,800 for a two-bedroom condo in Denver. The couple just purchased a 3,000-square-foot home in Aurora outside of Denver rather than in the city so she could stop working and care for the couple’s 15-month-old son, Zeke.

ANDREW WEBB

City planner Andrew Webb, 45, said he was “very sad to leave Albuquerque” but couldn’t resist the opportunity to be a planner in a “transit-rich environment with a lot more economic churn happening.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Andrew Webb, 45, has a completely different take on Denver’s crowded roads and rocketing housing costs. For him, headaches like that are exciting signs of a dynamic and growing metro area.

Webb, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter moved north earlier this year after he left his job with the Albuquerque City Council, working as liaison with the planning department.

Webb said he was “very sad to leave Albuquerque” but couldn’t resist the opportunity to be a planner in a “transit-rich environment with a lot more economic churn happening.”

“I enjoy change, and I’m interested in the forces that drive urban change,” he said. “Because the city is booming, it has the resources to try to address some of these problems.”

An extensive rail system has expanded to serve the Denver area’s growing population. New lines that are added to serve old industrial areas create more chances for “transit-oriented development.” Those once-overlooked pockets are seeing redevelopment into “interesting, new office concepts, co-working spaces, restaurants,” he said.

The city “has a lot of resources, and the pace of the economy allows municipalities to direct development,” Webb said.

For example, “There is so much demand for housing and real estate prices are so high” that developers find it “pencils out” to incorporate affordable housing required by the city.

The traffic? It’s manageable, says Webb, who uses the rail system and sometimes bikes to work.

“Places that have a lot of traffic have a lot of traffic because people want to be there. So it doesn’t bother me that much.”

LAUREN ROLLS

Lauren Rolls, 27, is shown in downtown Denver, where she works. The former Albuquerque resident says Denver provides more personal “growth opportunities.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Lauren Rolls, a 27-year-old Albuquerque native, made the trek to Denver several months ago because of the job opportunities and the chance for a change.

Rolls, former marketing manager for the Albuquerque Publishing Co., is now an account manager at Paladin, a marketing and advertising agency.

“I do feel that Denver has more growth opportunities for me personally,” Rolls said. “I didn’t want to wake up when I was 40 having only lived in Albuquerque my whole life.”

At the same time, Colorado’s capital is within a day’s driving distance from Albuquerque, so she can visit family and friends.

While Rolls received job offers in Albuquerque, she decided to make the move north because “it really came down to a change of scenery. Denver is booming. So many companies are moving here. There are cranes and stuff everywhere.”

ROBERT GIBBS

Robert Gibbs

Former Albuquerque Police Department officer Robert Gibbs was drawn to Denver, in part, because it offered a better place to raise his family.

The 50-year-old Denver community resource officer said he also was looking down the road at a phased-in change to retirement benefits in New Mexico that meant a delay in cost-of-living increases.

He and his wife, both Albuquerque natives, moved four years ago and “love our life here.”

Gibbs said that while his heart was with APD – “they taught me how to be a cop” – it was time to make a change.

“I felt that Denver would have been a better place to raise a family in regards to education and opportunities,” he said.

When the veteran officer wants to earn overtime, he signs up to work in the Broncos ticket office or to help with traffic at Rockies games.

So it’s the professional sports, the foothills near his Arvada home just northwest of Denver and the proximity to such places as Estes Park and Steamboat Springs that make the higher housing costs “completely worth it.”

All is not rosy, as any cop knows, and Gibbs said Denver has a “horrible transient issue” and a lot of property crime.

However, he said he has not seen the level of violence that he had expected when he moved to Denver.

“There’s a big difference between property crime and violent crime, and Albuquerque is very violent,” he said. “I would expect being a police officer here, I would see a big increase in the amount of violent crime because of the disparity of population. I don’t see it.”

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