November 30, 2021

Why downtown businesses stopped publishing data about how many workers are coming back

The downtown Denver business group said it’s because they aren’t confident in the accuracy of the break-out data because of the way it’s categorized.

DENVER — The Downtown Denver Partnership has stopped publicly reporting numbers that seem to show employees aren’t returning to offices downtown.

The data comes from a company called Placer AI. It uses anonymous location data from a bunch of different cellphone apps to estimate how many visitors, workers and residents are downtown on a given day.

“Our interactive kiosks that you see along the mall, they’re able to ping anonymously cell phone data that shows where people are coming from, how long they’re staying on the mall,” Britt Diehl, Senior Manager of Public Policy and Special Projects for the partnership, explained in June.

The kiosks at each corner of the 16th Street Mall serve as beacons for the data tracking, Diehl said, stressing that the data is collected anonymously.  

In June, we reported the data seemed to show only about a quarter of workers were back downtown.

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Before the pandemic, the DDP’s data on pedestrian traffic showed an average of more than 250,000 people in the city each day. More than 100,000 of those pedestrians worked in the city, according to the data we looked at in June. 

After stay-at-home orders came in March 2020, the number of workers sharply decreased, as much as 75%. For a peak of time in the summer of 2020, the number of workers slightly increased, with a slight decrease again in the fall.  

When vaccines became more widely available this spring, the number of daily visitors to the city started to slightly increase, while the number of workers remained flat. 

After our story, the partnership stopped reporting that number of workers.

When asked why, Diel said they found out workers only counted if they were coming downtown regularly for at least 90 days, so they’re waiting a bit to provide more accurate data. 

“A user is only considered an employee after being downtown at least once a week over the course of 90 days,” she said in an email. “This means that only now are employees who may have returned in some capacity on June 1 (the deadline we gave for Denver’s Ready campaign) being counted as employees by Placer – and that’s if they’ve not taken vacations, skipped a week or two here and there to WFH, etc. So, we’re not publishing the broken-out data until we have more confidence in its accuracy.”

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In that same data report, the partnership also provided some Google Visit data that shows trips to the office are still down about 41% from the baseline back in early 2020.

That’s better than the early days of the pandemic, but still low. 

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