Alaska Number One in Stimulus Money

By Libby Casey

Alaskans have gotten more of the federal stimulus dollars – per person – than any other state.  Only the District of Columbia is higher.    This month marked one year since President Obama signed the stimulus law, or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act… but Alaska will reap the bulk of its benefits in the year ahead.

The stimulus funds in Alaska amount to more than $23-hundred per person.  But Alaskans haven’t necessarily seen its impact in daily life.  Scott Goldsmith is an economist at ISER, the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage:

In most people’s minds, they don’t identify a particular project with stimulus funds as opposed to other funds, but there are a few examples where it is pretty obvious.

Goldsmith points to a new hospital being built in Barrow, and one in Nome – which is considered a national stimulus success story.  Carol Piscoya is the President of Norton Sound Health Corporation, which is building the Nome hospital.

It has made a huge difference.

She says the hospital has gotten funding in drips and dribbles – $10-million at a time, allowing the project to crawl forward.  Then the stimulus landed them $150-million.

If we didn’t get the stimulus money, would get enough for framing.  And then do the outside, and the next step… so it would be years down the road before we were actually able to move in.

And here’s what the stimulus is supposed to do – ripple out:  A steel company in Montana scored the Nome contract:  Allied Steel’s vice president Jeff Southworth says fabricating 2-thousand tons of steel kept his company from dire straights.

Because of the timing of the job, it was a huge breath of fresh air.  We just weren’t seeing a lot of quality projects or substantial projects.  So we had some work, but we had a glaring hole.  And the Nome job took away the hole.

Southworth says the work buoyed not only their community of Lewistown, but all of Central Montana.  And then there were trucks put to work shipping nearly 100 loads of steel to Seattle… and barges that carried it to Nome.  And Norton Sound Health Corporation’s Carol Piscoya says the stimulus effect continues:  Alaskans will go to work building the hospital in March, and eventually orders will go out for things like medical equipment.

We will be dealing directly with manufacturers in US, so we know that additional folks will be put to work based on that.

Economist Scott Goldsmith says the two biggest places ALASKANS will feel the impact of funds are in the construction industry, and education.

I think it’s clear it has had a significant affect holding up the Alaska economy.  Both because there are construction projects now going on that wouldn’t otherwise be happening, and that’s creating construction jobs and then spin off jobs as well.  But also when you spend money in the education budget to put more people to work, that puts more people to work.

The Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Roger Wetherell says stimulus funds will be spent throughout the state this year:

Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su Borough, Dillingham, Denali Highway near Paxson, Nome, Ketchikan, Hoonah, Haines…

Wetherell says more Alaskans will feel the affects.

There’s a lot of work out there, and you know we’re gonna keep pressing forward, and keep the employment situation in Alaska timulated.

School districts in the state are buying new computers, training teachers, and repairing buildings.  Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau :

One of the things I’m very excited about that is showing really good success is the 7th and 8th grade career guides that we’ve hired, and it helps us help young people focus earlier on staying in school, getting that high school diploma, but also taking more rigorous courses.

Comeau remembers a year ago fighting with then-Governor Sarah Palin to accept the money, and Alaska did take it – even millions in energy grants Palin initially rejected.

So a year into the stimulus – what does now Governor Sean Parnell have to say?

Short term gain, long term pain would describe it right now.  So short term gain meaning that we’ve used stimulus funds to repair roads, weatherize homes, I think that’s been positive.  My concern long run really has to do with the overall stimulus package, which has taken us into a deep deficit.

Governor Parnell isn’t alone in worrying about the debt.  But economist Scott Goldsmith believes that should be dealt with later, once the economy has recovered.

People are concerned about the debt, certainly, I actually think it’s a little misguided at this point in time, because the reason we’re taking on some debt in the short term is to be able to put people to work.  What’s the alternative?

A year from now, Alaskans may be able to more easily point out stimulus money projects… in 2009 the state received less than a quarter of its allotted 1 point 5 billion dollars… meaning there’s a lot more yet to come.


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