Speaker at WR chamber luncheon unable to shed much light on stimulus spending plans in midstate

WARNER ROBINS – Michael T. Dunham says the stimulus plan dollars coming to Georgia should be a boon to the nonresidential construction industry and provide much needed infrastructure improvements for Georgia residents, but he couldn’t offer many specifics about what the plan will provide in the midstate.

As executive vice president of the Georgia branch of the Associated General Contractors of America, part of Dunham’s job is to keep up with what the federal and state governments are doing with the stimulus plan and lobby for funding for projects that will create work for the state’s contractors.

He was the featured speaker for the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly regional business forum luncheon Friday. When the meeting was scheduled, it was hoped Dunham would be able to shed some light on what area projects might receive stimulus funding.

But Dunham said his efforts to find out where the money is going have been to no avail so far.

“I was at the (state) Capitol up until 11 p.m. last night for crossover day, and I checked in with different superintendents to see if they could say where the money is going. But so far they are holding everything close to the vest. Part of that is probably political, but part I think is also because they’re still trying to decide where and how they can use it. The governor will have the ultimate say, so no one will commit until he gives the go-ahead.”

Dunham did speculate that he believes the Georgia Board of Regents will be a big winner in the stimulus lottery, getting money for building projects that have been on hold because of budget cutbacks.

“But I’m afraid the K-12 schools won’t benefit as much, at least as far as construction of new schools. I’m hearing the stimulus money they get will likely be to replace state cuts that are forcing schools to lay off teachers,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will get about $931 million for road projects that could be used across the state, plus another $143 million that has been designated for use in Georgia’s six top metropolitan areas, Dunham said.

“These projects are supposed to be shovel ready – no waiting for design or buying right of ways. There’s a use it or lose it provision for the road money, so states that can’t allocate the money to qualifying projects within 90 days have to give it back and other states can claim it. I hear we have our list ready, so hopefully that won’t happen to us.”

Dunham said the stimulus plan also includes a combined $6 billion for clean water and drinking water funds the states can use, so those types of projects could benefit from the money.

Dunham did have some specifics of what the stimulus money could mean to the construction industry in Georgia, and to the state’s economy as a whole.

He said an additional $1 billion in nonresidential construction spending would add about $2.6 billion to Georgia’s gross domestic product, add about $801 million to personal earnings and create or sustain 23,000 jobs – 7,800 direct on-site construction jobs, 3,700 construction supply and service jobs, and 11,500 jobs created from the spending by the other workers. He said Georgia’s construction industry has been hit hard by the recession, losing about 28,500 construction jobs (residential and nonresidential) from a peak of 224,500 in February of 2007, a 12.7 percent loss.

“The big thing is creating jobs and getting people back to work. Do that and the recession turns around,” he said. “Hopefully these stimulus programs will get that started.”

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.