Archive for Economic Development

Flow of stimulus money through Pickens/rough

This puts the rough in rough draft —- it’s a skeleton, really.

P.S. — no hating for typos, please 😉

This is basically how the article will be structured — one general into and four subheads.

General overview of where the money went

According to ProPublica, Pickens county received $844 per capita of stimulus money, the is $550 less per capita than the Georgia average and nearly half of what was received per capita nationwide — and this is with unemployment slightly higher in Pickens than the state and national average. Gilmer to the north received nearly $200 more per capita — $16 million of which went to Small Business Administration (I would guess this is the big divide between Pickens and Gilmer. While the two counties are about the same size, there are at least four times as many businesses in Gilmer, and I am guessing this is because there is a healthy tourism market there.) But Cherokee actually received $300 less per capita than Pickens.

A large hunk of their money went to the Department of Transportation (which ranked under education and small business in that county). DOT funding was nominal in Pickens. Hwy 575 project improvements near exit 19 in Cherokee was a result of this money, I assume. Dawson received nearly $200 less than Pickens per capita — the lion’s share went to low income housing loans, and one single-recipient business/industry loan. Unemployment here was slightly lower in 2011. All these comparisons beg for a chart or graph. It makes sense to me to have the chart reflect the basic comparisons of Pickens to state/nation/perhaps surrounding counties? Thoughts Lisa?

 

Here are the top three recipients by federal agency/department in Pickens. Small Business Administration $5,916,800 Energy, Department of $5,527,460 Education, Department of $5,159,941.  Department of Agriculture is right after this with over $4 million (this primarily went to low-income housing). Then there is a big drop off to the Social Security Administration at $1.6 million. It makes sense to me to cover more in-depth these first four big ones (each under a separate subhead), and perhaps just briefly, in the introduction, cover generally where the money went in all other department/agencies in Pickens. I am using ProPublica and Recovery.org primarily for sourcing. While I trust the data fro ProPublica a bit more, I found this neat little feature on Recovery that lets you click on each award and learn more details about that award — this is especially helpful if the award was part of a larger award granted to numerous agencies under one umbrella (i.e. Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, which received over $36 million statewide —- $250,000 of which went to Pickens for water system improvements.) The description gives you an estimate of how many jobs were created because of the funding and tells you the purpose of the grant/loan. This will be a great thing to know before going into interviews this week.

 

Small Business Administration — There are only 15 businesses, according to ProPublica, that received these loans. I can easily call most or all of them to find out how the loans impacted the business. Did the money add/save any jobs? Did the business go under despite the loan? I am especially interested in Rock Creek Manor (an assisted living facility that has not been around for more than a year — did this help them open?); Marble Ace Hardware (which closed and reopened — not sure if this was under new ownership, but something to look into); and English Poultry (who in the heck is this? Never heard of them before).

 

Department of Energy —- NORTH GEORGIA COMMUNITY ACTION INC received $5,527,460 (according to ProPublica) — this is a program that helps with weatherization assistance for low-income people in their 10 county area. They do retrofitting to help with energy efficiency, but I also know that they have assisted with heating bills in past years (a program which I believe may have been cut last year). I am going to find out why, with the assistance, did they have to cut the heating assistance program. There was once a cooling assistance as well (I think). I will find out how much of that $5+ million went directly to Pickens. NGCA also serves Cherokee and Gilmer (two of the counties I am looking into comparing basics about stimulus money — I will compare here as well.  Basically I want to know where the money went — to add programs (not likely); to sustain programs? Just to keep afloat? To add/keep jobs?

 

Education — A little over $5 million went to education in Pickens. About $4.5 million of that went to the Pickens County Board of Education, the largest hunk of which went to elementary/secondary education and then special education and rehabilitative services. I have heard that special education is insanely costly, and I wonder if this money was just to keep those departments above water. About $500,000 went to fund the PELL Grant through the Tech School (I assume this would be Chattahoochee Technical College — I will talk to the financial officer at the school ). With the public school, I will start here simply by interviewing the financial director for the BOE. She worked there before, through and after stimulus funding. She will be my jumping off point. I am interested if the funding created or saved any jobs in the education system as well (thanks to a comment in NewsNumbers 😉

 

Department of Agriculture – Most of this funding went to low/moderate income housing loans. I literally just decided to include this section while writing this, so have done no work on it yet. I’ll develop this as I move along.

 

 

 

 

Stimulus money’s flow to Pickens County

I am covering Economic Development and Stimulus. For my story I am going to do one large piece that covers three different areas of stimulus money in Pickens. I would like to first do a general section on how the stimulus money was filtered through Pickens County and compare those figures to how it was filtered through the neighboring counties of Gilmer and Dawson (who both have similar demographics) and Cherokee to the south, which is much larger and more diverse. Then I will track how that money trickled into the education system in Pickens, since education is one of the largest recipients of stimulus money. I will also look at the small business loans that were granted and attempt to find out how many, if any, jobs were created or retained because of stimulus money.

Pickens County and the stimulus

ProPublica.org

Let’s look at the stimulus information about Pickens County, Georgia, and see how we might use it to cover the problems of unemployed people and low-income families.

The summary on ProPublica conveniently compares Pickens to the state and the nation. It also allows us to drill down to get details about the money in Pickens.

From these few pages, a half-dozen story ideas emerge. We can see immediately that:

-Although unemployment in Pickens County was consistently higher than the national average, and higher than the state average in 2008 and 2009, the per-capita funding to the county was only about half the national average, and 40 percent less than the state’s average.

Why? Was it due to a flawed process of distribution, or was it a question of political clout?

-Of the $24 million spent in Pickens County, about one-quarter went to Small Business Administration loans.

Who were these businesses? How many jobs were saved or created as a result of the loans? Did any of the businesses fail in spite of the loan?

-Another $5.5 million went to a weatherization program, but not all of this money was spent in Pickens County. It went to a nonprofit agency, North Georgia Community Action, which is based in Pickens but serves 10 North Georgia counties.

Read more

Stimulus project on ProPublica

ProPublica offers a quick summary and comparison

ProPublica, a nonprofit reporting organization, created a special project to track the stimulus money. The result is a very user-friendly place to do research and comparisons.

[To understand more about the ProPublica methodology in assembling and cleaning the data, there is an explainer about that here.]

Start with the ProPublica recovery page: http://projects.propublica.org/recovery/

The information is framed in the way that a reporter or citizen might think about it: basic questions of “How much did we get?” and “Did we get a fair share?”

You can define “we” down to the level of a county.

The very first page is a table that allows you to immediately see how much per capita your state received. Read more

But what about the jobs?

The Recovery Act, like many economic development packages, was touted as a way to create jobs. But accurate and current figures about the number of jobs are nearly impossible to calculate except at a very local level.

The reason is that there are no cumulative reports about the number of jobs created under the stimulus. Even the quarterly reports are misleading.

From the day an award is announced, the recipients are required to report on the progress of the work and the number of jobs funded.

Read more

Tracking stimulus money on Recovery.gov

 

The federal government set up a monitoring agency to track the stimulus, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and it created the website Recovery.gov, focused just on stimulus money.

Because Recovery.gov is official, and specific to stimulus money, you might feel that it’s the best source of data on this topic. It is a user-friendly site, allowing easy ways to search by Zip code and county, as well as using map-based searches.

However, this site only includes stimulus spending at the level that required federal reporting. Individual recipients, such as student loans, do not have to report, for privacy reasons. [More information about student loans and Pell grants are on the Department of Education website.]

Awards of less than $25,000 do not require reports, a common threshold intended to reduce federal paperwork. You should let your audience know about this omission when reporting these numbers.

And the Recovery.gov site only gives national numbers for money spent on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment, and for tax credits and incentives. The idea was that those expenditures did not create jobs directly, the way that contracts and grants did.

To get some of these numbers, you’ll need to go to ProPublica (in our next post).

Read more

Stimulus search on USASpending

Here’s a step-by-step for getting data about stimulus spending in your county from USASpending.gov.

Remember that this search will only show what has been awarded from federal government agencies. The results will not include details about money that was awarded to the state and then flowed down to the county level. For the local numbers, you can use ProPublica or your state’s recovery website.

However, this site is useful for tracking other federal government contracts that are awarded directly to companies and organizations in your area. Some of those may be related to economic development, even if they were NOT funded under the Recovery Act.

You might want to look over the FAQ before using this website. This post only covers how to use the site for stimulus money; learn more about the extensive search features for other government spending by reading the FAQ.

For comparison with other sources, see the earlier post.

Start on the home page of the site and click on “Prime Award Advanced Search“.

Skip the search box on the home page. It will give you too many results because it is not designed for searches with multiple filters.

Prime awards are those that go to the main contractors and grantees. Many of these contractors and grantees then award part of their award as subcontracts or sub-grants to others, who carry out the actual work. So, for example, a “prime award” contract might go to a company in Virginia, but the sub-awards could go to companies in several states where the work is being done.

You should repeat these steps with “Sub-award Advanced Search.” Sub-awards searches give you results that you won’t find in a Prime Awards search, because they give results specifically about subcontractors or sub-grants.

The minimum amount is $25,000; sub-awards less than that will not show in the search. This limit is intended to reduce federal paperwork, but it means you would have to do extensive legwork to track those down. Also, sub-awards from state agencies will not necessarily show here, either; it depends on the reporting requirements for the prime award.

On the Advanced Search page, you’ll get lots of optional fields to fill in. Here, we’ll focus on just a few.

Read more

Measuring the stimulus

How the money moves / Recovery.gov

 

Under the Recovery Act, better known as the federal stimulus, the government has spent about $540 billion so far in direct grants and entitlements, and another $300 billion in tax benefits. Yet, down at the street level, many people would be hard-pressed to say where they’ve seen this spending in their community.

To report on how stimulus money affected your market area, start by getting an overview of the local data. Learning how to navigate and use the resources will help you with many kinds of reporting about how federal money is spent at the local level.

There are three major sources – two from the government, Recovery.gov and USASpending.gov, and one from a nonprofit, ProPublica.org. You can also get further information from your state’s site on stimulus spending.

ProPublica was specifically designed for ease of use by reporters and citizens. However, because each of the three sites has advantages and disadvantages, to gain accuracy and completeness you might want to use all three and compare.

We’ll do posts on each of these to show you in more detail how to get and use the numbers you need.

But keep in mind the advice of Sarah Cohen (Duke University) in her 2010 IRE webinar about the stimulus: “DON’T try to do an accounting of the money. You’ll go crazy. DON’T force everything to add up. It won’t. … DON’T depend on employment estimates – they’re really bad.”

Start with some basic measures of where and to whom that stimulus money went, and let the story ideas emerge from there:

+How much recovery money in total flowed to your state? to your county?

+Who were the biggest recipients?

+How much went to loans for businesses? How much to state agencies? How much to contractors? How much to direct assistance?

Questions about job creation are a special case, and we’ll have a post about that.

The three major sources for data about how stimulus money is being spent:

Read more

Why cover economic development?

People with good jobs aren’t poor. So in my mind, that’s the biggest  [poverty] issue: How do we get more jobs for people?

Ron Sherer, Christian Science Monitor

Roadside merchant, Washington state

If you think of yourself as a social issues reporter, you might assume that business and economic development is in the opposite direction.

Here are five reasons to include business and economic development in coverage of poverty:

  • To have an income that raises them above the poverty level, people need good jobs. Economic development is all about making jobs.
  • From the Occupy Wall Street movement to debates about health care and welfare, many of the leading issues of this decade involve economics and the need for development that addresses societal problems. Few areas of coverage touch on so many hot-button topics, many of them related to poverty.
  • Spending on economic development is a big chunk of every federal budget. The Obama administration pinned its jobs policy to the hundreds of billions in stimulus money under the Recovery Act. Yet much of that spending is invisible to citizens as it makes its way through the system and down to the state and local level. It’s our job to make that spending trail visible.
  • Economic development is about solutions. By focusing poverty coverage on “what works,” we make the topic more engaging for our audiences.
  • Economic development itself is the source of much debate. What’s the best way to create jobs? What measures are most cost-effective? These questions are an essential part of reporting on government policy and accountability.