Stimulus scorecard: Rural MN project brings boost, no new jobs

Big Stone 75 in western Minnesota was one of the first 60 greater Minnesota projects to get federal stimulus dollars. It’s done now. What’s the payoff?

The road, a key artery through Big Stone County, offers a check on the benefits of the federal stimulus plan. Some good got done. But how do we judge if it’s worth it?

Big Stone County Commissioner Brent Olson is a source in our Public Insight Network who’s been great about sharing his vantage point on the economy and the stimulus. We asked him to size up the $7million resurfacing project. He tells us:

I think the Highway 75 project played out about the way we thought it would. It is all done – the crews work incredibly hard – and they are off to the next project. The pace of the work was perhaps the greatest surprise.

No new jobs were created in Big Stone County as a result – highway crews STAYED employed, there was a boost to the local economy due to gravel sales, meals, hotels, etc…There was a boost in morale to see some much needed work actually get done, and that shouldn’t be undervalued.

Roads need repair, railroads need upgrading, sewers and septic systems are in disrepair – there is a lot of work out there that have been ignored for a long time and seeing some of those needs addressed are as good for the soul as a fresh clean coat of paint in the living room. Decay of infrastructure was stopped and in a small part reversed, which is of great value to our local area.

So there’s no doubt that something positive came out of the project. Olson notes that without the federal stimulus money, who knows when the repaving would have happened?

But is that enough? We’re already seeing evidence in Minnesota that the projected job creation benefits from the stimulus are not matching up with reality. Nationally, the stimulus bill will add $787 billion to the national deficit through 2019.

Adds Olson:

I’m not sure what people expect from the stimulus package. If you had a job as a salesclerk at Gap or something similar and lost your job, you can’t learn how to be a machinist, a pipe fitter, or a heavy equipment operator overnight – these are demanding, technical jobs that require training and experience and they are the type of jobs that are helped by infrastructure work.

I can’t think of a federal stimulus program that would help lost jobs in the retail sector, unless restoring confidence and providing already employed workers with steady paychecks is enough.

Weigh in here on the stimulus package, how you’re seeing it and how it might be affecting you.

Also, here are maps of greater Minnesota projects and Twin Cities projects.

I’m especially interested in hearing from people like Brent Olson who can talk about the pros and cons of specific projects or spending flowing from the stimulus.

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