Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 8, 2009

Stimulus could bring 75,000 positions to Indiana


When William Plank was laid off in November, he never imagined it would take him so long to find another job. Every day the 48-year-old truck driver spends nearly five hours on the computer, job hunting and posting résumés.

“I’ve filed for jobs online and in person, and since November I’ve only received one job interview,” he said. “It’s getting very discouraging.”

He blames the narrowing field.

“Look at the recent job postings,” he said. “The recent job postings on Hot Jobs are mystery shoppers.”

He’s cautiously hopeful the $787 billion stimulus package will turn his situation around. So are a lot of people in Kokomo, where the unemployment rate surpassed 17.4 percent in January, according to the Indiana Workforce Development.

When President Barack Obama signed the stimulus plan, he promised to create or retain 3.5 million jobs nationwide. Of those, 75,000 jobs would come to Indiana. The state was awarded approximately $4.3 billion to fund Medicaid, education, roads and bridges, nutrition, weatherization and water quality, among other investments.

But many questions are still left unanswered.

“We simply don’t know yet how a lot of the funds will come to Indiana,” said Jane Jankowski, press secretary for Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The stimulus funding has already been directed toward certain projects and priorities, she explained.

“There will not be a lot of discretionary funding,” she said.

Job creation will be a natural result of the numerous construction projects throughout the state. The projects will also result in better infrastructure, buildings, housing and energy. Other businesses will benefit from the trickle-down effect. While construction crews, contractors, architects and engineers are working, they’ll frequent the restaurants and retail stores to boost the economy in the area.

“[The governor’s] priorities are job creation and doing it in a speedy manner,” Jankowski said.

Jeb Conrad’s focus is job creation in Kokomo and the Howard County area. Conrad is the president and CEO of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance.

Conrad said in the short term, he believes it will put a lot more people back to work on projects that will make the community more attractive to prospective businesses.

“We think if there are dollars for the physical things short term, we’ll be in a much better position to sell our community,” he said.

While it’s important to boost the current businesses in Kokomo, Conrad said it’s also important to diversify the local economy.

GKEDA is focused on retaining talented individuals in engineering and information technology who wish to be entrepreneurs. He said these individuals promote upcoming and growing businesses that focus on product placement.

It’s his belief that the recovery act will not only help laborers but generate enough revenue to bring high paying jobs to the area.

“Those dollars will go a long way to creating longer term and sustainable jobs,” he said.

Economist Morton Marcus said an influx of money into the system will generate jobs. But he still questions some of the numbers the Obama administration has used. Like many individuals, Marcus doesn’t know where Obama’s formula for job growth comes from.

“It comes from very careful analysis by astute economists,” he said. “It’s the typical kinds of stuff any administration would do. They have a number someone has put together very sincerely but in a method that could be challenged.”

Marcus is also concerned the demands and restrictions written in the 407-page stimulus document will be counter-productive.

“My chief concern is that we will eat up a lot of this money in administrative cost either at the federal level in Washington, regional in Chicago or state level in Indianapolis,” he said.

In the meantime, Plank is crossing his fingers. With so many questions lingering, Plank isn’t sure what to put his faith in.

“I’m hopeful, but I’m also doubtful,” he said.

Indiana’s stimulus package:

Medicaid: $1.4 billion

Education: $1.3 billion

Roads and Bridges: $650 million

Nutrition: $400 million

Weatherization: $100 million

Water Quality: $100 million

Housing: $100 million

Public Transit: $80 million

Energy: $70 million

Employment Services: $70 million

Child Care: $40 million

Justice: $40 million

— Provided by www.invest.in.gov