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STEWARD Founder Fred Tausch Comments on the First Months of Stimulus in Today's Nashua Telegraph
05.10.09

NASHUA TELEGRAPH: STIMULUS FUNDING TAKES SHAPE IN THE STATE

By ALBERT McKEON Staff Writer
A paving company president estimates he would have had to lay off 75 employees if it weren't for the federal economic stimulus package.

Continental Paving, Mark Charbonneau's family-run business, landed a $10 million contract to reconstruct and pave a section of the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Bedford, as part of a larger project to connect the highway with Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Continental's contract came out of a $130 million package of stimulus money targeted to build and repair highways and bridges in New Hampshire.

The $10 million contract and the ability of similar companies to land stimulus-funded work enabled Continental to keep its 300-person staff intact, Charbonneau said. Without any stimulus-driven projects, the many companies in the state's road construction industry would have been competing for fewer contracts, and Continental would have had to lay off 75 workers, he said.

"We needed it bad," Charbonneau said. "I wasn't a stimulus supporter when it started, but I didn't expect work to stop the way it did. This has been great."

Continental Paving is only one of a few New Hampshire companies that at this time can concretely measure whether the economic stimulus package will keep as many as 16,000 people working in the Granite State.

Three months after President Obama signed the measure into law, the $787 billion economic stimulus package is just starting to take shape in New Hampshire. Public and private agencies, municipalities and companies are in the process of applying for myriad grants and loans that Obama and Congress claim will boost the flailing economy.

It's still too early to gauge if an estimated $493 million promised to come New Hampshire's way will create or save 16,000 jobs, as touted by Obama and some of the state's federal legislators. But the official charged with overseeing the state's stimulus money sees significant progress at this early stage and promises that every dime and job will be accounted for.

"The rubber is meeting the road," said Orville "Bud" Fitch, director of the governor's Office of Economic Stimulus.

About $54 million of stimulus money has been approved so far for New Hampshire projects, Fitch said. A bulk of that money supports Department of Transportation projects – such as the airport road expansion – that were ready to start immediately, he said.

Fitch also pointed to weatherization and water programs as areas starting to see the fruits of funding.

The stimulus package gave $23 million to New Hampshire for home weatherization work, and that funding has now been dispersed to agencies that, in turn, hire contractors. Southern New Hampshire Services, one of seven of those overseeing agencies, received $5.4 million and is taking bids from contractors to ultimately improve the energy efficiency of low-income homes.

The state also received $39 million for municipal drinking water and wastewater projects. Milford, Hudson and Wilton will have work done from this package. Also this week, the state accepted $39 million in special education and Title I education funding for local school districts.

But dozens of education, health care, environmental and transportation initiatives have yet to receive funding because those programs are just now taking form. Most programs have only recently seen guidelines established by the federal government, or they are in the next stage in which applicants are submitting funding requests, Fitch said.

The real sign of progress will come when Fitch and the public can assess with certainty how many people were put to work or stayed at work thanks to stimulus money.

The 16,000-job estimate for the Granite State is understood to be derived from "time-tested methods" of economists, Fitch said. That includes estimating indirect employment. For example, jobs at a supply company that provides materials to a road paving company are typically used in such estimates, he said.

But the state Office of Economic Stimulus will eventually track only jobs directly created by stimulus funding, Fitch said. "They ask us to do very concrete, actual job tracking," he said.

Michael Power, executive director of community outreach for the state's Workforce Opportunity Council, still believes the stimulus package will create or save 16,000 jobs here.

"We're seeing the bottoming out (of the recession) in some parts of economy in terms of home sales and other things," Power said. When the recovery goes into full effect later this year, he said, more jobs will appear in the so-called "legacy" areas of employment: retail and manufacturing.

For the Workforce Opportunity Council, recently received stimulus money is already having a positive effect, Power said. Two programs train unemployed people for fields of work that will be in demand and provide employment counseling, he said. A third program for teenagers will put them to work this summer, he said.

The stimulus package has its skeptics, of course. A majority of Republican lawmakers lined up against the bill, and it still draws its share of criticism for spending money on programs that many say won't stimulate employment.

Fred Tausch, a Nashua resident and entrepreneur, started the group Stimulate the Economy Without Accumulating Record Debt to monitor government spending and the stimulus package.

"New Hampshire is getting a raw deal whether or not you agree with it," Tausch said, pointing to an economists' study – funded by Tausch's group – that New Hampshire finishes in the bottom 10 in the country for stimulus money spent per person. "And it doesn't seem to be more than pork barrel projects," he said.

Tausch also criticized the government for failing to be accountable and transparent in showing where money is being spent or how many jobs are being created.

But the state Office of Economic Stimulus does provide a detailed accounting of money approved and dispersed so far. And Fitch said that as more money enters the economy, those dollars will be tracked, as well as the number of jobs it saved or created.

Critics have also wondered how certain projects will actually affect employment. For instance, a new fire truck for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport doesn't seem to directly create or save work in this state, and some social programs like domestic violence prevention might be laudable but might not seem to stimulate the economy.

But Fitch said those programs help, even though they might not directly create jobs – the sort that will appear on his list.

"In many kinds of those programs, it goes to people providing services. With domestic violence programs, there are people there to counsel, or they pay for temporary housing for those whose physical safety is at risk," Fitch said. Money is, essentially, being circulated and "not being put in a drawer," he said.

Website: http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090510/NEWS01/305109921/-1/YOUTH

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