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(Enlarge) David Bower, president and chief operating officer of Ellicott City's Data Computer Corp. of America, said his company saved six jobs with the $1 million it received in federal stimulus funds. (Staff photo by Nicole Martyn)

In Howard County, the federal government is spending $8 million to create or save eight private sector jobs.

That sort of statistic -- part of the official data collected from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- has officials here and across the country debating whether the government is spending money wisely.

Economists appear to be split on the effectiveness of the stimulus package, with some saying spending so much per job is out of line but others arguing the package's success cannot be measured merely by the number of jobs created.

Business owners who've received the funding, meanwhile, say the money is a boon.

At the Ellicott City-based information technology firm Data Computer Corp. of America, President and Chief Operating Officer David Bower said his company, which works exclusively as a government contractor, was able to save six jobs because of the $1 million in stimulus funds it received. (Federal government figures put the number of jobs saved at the company at two.)

"To the people whose jobs are saved by this, it's probably priceless, because they won't have to be the ones who get laid off," he said.

But critics say the money is not being used wisely.

"That's pretty sad," said Joan Becker, chairwoman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, of the number of jobs created locally. "The idea of the stimulus is to create jobs and stimulate the economy. It ended up going to projects that did not create jobs. It was like a wish list for politicians who funded their pet projects."

State Del. Warren Miller, a Woodbine Republican, echoed that sentiment.

"It's $8 million of wasteful spending," he said. "It's embarrassing."

Good for companies

In Howard, stimulus money has been parceled out to 21 companies, for a variety of purposes: Columbia-based Advanced Programs Inc., for example, received a nearly $1 million contract to provide electronic computer manufacturing for the state department; Hewlett-Packard, in Columbia, received $1.3 million to purchase computers and monitors for the Social Security Administration; and, Columbia-based Cabezon Group received nearly $500,000 to provide clinic trials for cancer treatment.

The businesses are among 220 organizations in the Baltimore metropolitan area that have received a total of $70.7 million in federal stimulus money. With that money, 172 jobs have been created, according to the federal government.

"The effectiveness of the stimulus varies in different places around the country," said Deniece Peterson, the principal analyst tracking stimulus funding for INPUT, a Reston, Va., firm that analyzes government spending. "The federal government says it wants to spend $92,000 per job. But in some areas they're spending $500,000 per job.

"That's a lot further behind than the administration would like to see."

Robert Dye, senior economist for PNC Bank, said the stimulus should not be judged simply by the number of jobs created.

"There's a multiplier effect," he said. "Those people who get jobs in turn go to the grocery store, and they buy cars, and those actions create demand for other jobs down the road. There will be a multiplier effect that's not quantifiable."

He said the government should choose which projects to fund to get the greatest impact.

"The best projects are the ones that return a real economic benefit, like building a road or a bridge," he said. "Some projects may not be things that were highly needed. History will be the judge of that."

$12.3 million for county government

Besides the funds awarded to private companies, the Howard County government has been awarded $12.3 million, though officials have not yet received all of the funding. Among the county projects funded with stimulus money are: $100,000 of overtime pay for police to serve arrest warrants for violent criminals; $2.6 million for purchasing hybrid buses; and $10,000 to provide food for the Food Bank.

Howard County Executive Kenneth Ulman said he'd like to "have as much money coming into Howard County as possible, particularly in the private sector," but that it's up to businesses to apply for such funds themselves.

"We're really focused on the public sector," he said, "making sure we're getting every penny we're due and going after any competitive grant."

Ulman added that stimulus money that went to the state government last year helped counties and school systems avoid layoffs and more severe furloughs.

About 60 percent of the stimulus money has yet to be awarded, said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who recently urged local businesses to apply for more funding.

"The stimulus money is substantial," he said at a town hall-style meeting at Howard County General Hospital earlier this month. "There's no earmarks. Everything is competitive."

Richard Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said $18 million more in stimulus funding would be available for private sector companies that want to make improvements along Route 1 as part of a "recovery zone" project.

"We think we'll deploy it fairly quickly," he said.

Strategically located

Dye said Maryland companies are well-located to benefit from stimulus funding.

"There's a high concentration of federal government spending," he said. "It will definitely have a positive impact on the Baltimore and Eastern Maryland economy. Right now, government is the growth industry in the U.S. Baltimore is close enough to take advantage of the proximity to Washington, D.C."

For those companies receiving the money, their employees will benefit even if new jobs aren't added, he said.

"Certainly, there's a positive economic impact to the companies that received the funds," he said. "The question is, is there a return to the American taxpayer from this? I think history will say, yes, absolutely there is a return. Without the stimulus, there would be a high likelihood that the recession would continue."

For more information on or to track the federal stimulus spending, go to www.recovery.gov.

Stimulating Maryland

* In Anne Arundel County, 28 businesses have received $32.7 million in federal stimulus money and created or saved 74 jobs.

* In Baltimore City, 21 businesses have received $9.1 million in government contracts and created or saved 60 jobs.

* In Baltimore County, 64 companies have received $12.8 million and created or saved five jobs.

* Carroll County businesses have not received any stimulus money.

* In Harford County, 86 companies have received $7.5 million and created or saved 25 jobs.

* In Howard County, 21 businesses have received $8 million and created or saved eight jobs.

* In Maryland, 527 companies have received $590 million and created or saved 966 jobs.

How it works

The federal government's $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes $288 billion in tax benefits, $275 billion in contracts, grants and loans for various projects, and $224 billion in entitlement programs, such as Medicaid or unemployment.

Twenty-eight federal government agencies have been allocated a portion of the $787 billion. Each agency develops specific plans for how it will spend its stimulus funds, such as renovating a government office building or purchasing new computer software. The agencies then award grants and contracts to state or local governments, or to schools, hospitals and private contractors.

Some of the main goals of the stimulus are:

* beginning to computerize health records to reduce medical errors and save on health-care costs;

* investing in the domestic renewable energy industry;

* weatherizing 75 percent of federal buildings and more than 1 million houses; and,

* Cutting taxes for 129 million working households by providing an $800 tax credit for qualified individuals.

Source: Recovery.gov


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