Shelby stimulus job growth low

On February 26, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

New report shows ARRA funds affected 346 jobs

Memphis Business Journal – by Christopher Sheffield
February 26, 2010

Shelby County has garnered about $478 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for 313 separate awards, according to the agency tapped to track and report the county’s portion of ARRA funds.

The number of jobs saved and/or created through stimulus funding thus far is 346, according to the Feb. 3 report by the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence.

By comparison, the state is expected to get almost $6 billion in ARRA funds through 4,911 awards that will save or create about 10,300 jobs.

Shelby County is on track to get 8% of the dollars and 6% of the jobs compared to the state totals, numbers that have Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, a member of the state Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee, frustrated but not surprised.

Tracking job creation to ARRA funding has been a constant criticism of the stimulus program by many groups, and the most recent report by the Alliance only serves as further proof of that, Norris says.

Norris lays much of the blame on the hurry-up process both from agencies and groups submitting applications for funding to the state and federal agencies that sign off on funding and monitor progress.

Norris says the state Legislature should have had a more central role in dispersing and monitoring stimulus funding.

“We would have had a much better chance of having a handle on it,” he says.

As for the 346 jobs resulting from almost $500 million in ARRA funds, he says, “That’s a lot of give for a little get.”

According to the reports compiled by the ANP, which was contracted by the city to build and maintain the county’s ARRA database, funds have been committed to dozens of on-going projects and programs like the Department of Education’s Pell Grant program or rental assistance for nearly two dozen public housing projects. All of those come in the form of grants.

Among the largest locally was three contracts through the Department of Health and Human Services totaling almost $41 million to GlaxoSmithKline Holdings, Inc., for the purchase of adult and pediatric influenza vaccines, with work performed in Memphis. The number of jobs associated with those dollars as reported was zero.

Several other significant contracts came through the U.S. Corps of Engineers for dredging and levee work along the Mississippi River, including $7.5 million to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC for harbor maintenance between Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Greenville, Miss., and a single $48.9 million contract to Panamerican Consultants, Inc., for field archival research and field work. Number of jobs: zero.

There’s also a smattering of loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration for about two dozen private businesses, including a $464,000 loan to Dunkin’ Donuts for its new store in Cordova and $627,700 for Brookhaven Chiropractic Center PLLC.

The largest single recipients for grants or loans were St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. UTHSC has been approved for 39 grants totaling almost $22 million. St. Jude has been approved for 32 grants totaling almost $27 million.

Researcher Mark Muro, a fellow and policy director at The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, is not surprised by Shelby County’s seemingly small piece of ARRA funds and the small number of jobs saved or created.

A study by Brookings found that metro areas like Memphis were at a disadvantage as candidates for stimulus funding because of the structure of the ARRA.

While created to provide an economic boost, much of ARRA’s dollars have been treated more like life vests meant to save state and federal programs, Muro says. Only about one-third of the $787 billion program was discretionary spending for new, job-producing projects, Muro says.

Ideally, Muro says, ARRA would have been structured to support long-standing regional plans for projects like transportation and neighborhood revitalization.

For instance, none of the $27.5 million going to the Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will go to long-term regional projects or new roadways, says MPO transportation planner Paul Morris.

An estimated $24 million will go to resurfacing projects, with another $2 million for bike and pedestrian paths and $500,000 for guardrail and road marking.

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