Road work isn’t local employment boon
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” More than $15 billion in stimulus spending on infrastructure projects across the country will generate an estimated 532,764 jobs, according to the American Public Works Association.
Figuring out how many of those jobs Eagle County can expect to get is tough to nail down, officials said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is already planning about $20 million in spending on local projects because of the stimulus package. But just because the projects are local doesn’t necessarily mean the work will be done by locals. The department uses a competitive-bid process for all of its projects and doesn’t give preference to local contractors.
“It’s solely a low-bid process,” said Peter Kozinski of the CDOT. “We are stewards of your tax dollars ” just because one area has a local person doesn’t mean they can say I need 20 percent extra for being local.”
Days after President Obama signed the stimulus bill, the Department of Transportation announced it would fund an $11 million Edwards interchange project, $650,000 for two new digital message boards in Vail, $1.9 million to finish a truck-parking area in Dotsero and $8 million to repave parts of Vail Pass in both Eagle and Summit counties.
Until the projects go to contract, it’s tough to tell how many local jobs the work will create, Kozinski said. It is something the transportation department plans to track, though.
“It is a piece of information that I think many people are interested in understanding,” Kozinski said. “It’s not something we normally track, but we’ll be seeking the information from the contractors.”
Officials will start advertising some of the projects and accepting bids in the next few months.
Kozinski said there are at least a couple of contractors he thinks would bid on the work being funded by stimulus money.
The Edwards company B and B Excavating Inc. is one of them, said Jason Burkey, one of the company’s directors.
There are also a number of projects in Summit County that B and B plans to bid on. But regardless of the contracts it lands, it’s not going to be the amount of work that would require them to add employees, Burkey said.
“Typically, those are the kind of jobs we would bid on,” Burkey said. “But it’s still not anywhere near the year that we’re used to in the past.”
B and B Excavating is planning for its workload to be down 30 percent or 40 percent compared with the previous two years, he said.
But the stimulus money is speeding up projects, and that’s a good thing, Burkey said.
“What it might do is bridge the gap between the public and private sector,” he said. “Maybe there will be more public work in the next year or two and let the private sector catch up.”
And although companies such as B and B could catch some stimulus-related work, some local contractors such as Jl Viele Construction Inc. and Kiehl Construction that deal more with the private sector will likely be left out of the mix.
“We’re not planning on it,” said David Viele, president of Viele Construction. “The majority of those funds will go toward heavy utility and road work. There are probably half a dozen subcontractors it could help, but it won’t help vertical contractors like us.”
Woody Kiehl, of Kiehl Construction, said he doesn’t think the stimulus money will help his company generate new work or jobs, either. Kiehl’s company deals more with residential construction and high-end remodeling.
“I wouldn’t think it would help with any of the jobs we do,” Kiehl said. “It’d be nice.”
The job estimates from the American Public Works Association amount to about 35,000 new jobs for every $1 billion of infrastructure spending. In addition to construction work, the estimate includes what the association refers to as indirect jobs ” jobs that result from workers spending the money they make.
“It’s the construction activity as well as the consumer expenditures,” said Jim Fahey, director of government and public affairs for the public works association. “The money the workers will put back into the economy based on their income doing the work.”
Around $20 million in stimulus projects could create about 750 direct and indirect jobs in the area, based on the public works estimates.
Ed Montovani, manger of the Smiling Moose Deli in Edwards, said he wouldn’t be surprised if construction of the Edwards interchange boosts business.
“When there is a lot of construction in town, I would say it’s something we definitely notice,” Montovani said. “I worked at the Carbondale office for a while, and lots of road-crew guys would come in.”
Some of the other types of projects the county is still trying to get funding for might be better suited to create local jobs, Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney said.
“I’m sure there will be (jobs),” Stavney said. “But significant highway projects probably aren’t the best candidates for large-scale local job creation.”