Stimulus experts share their knowledge with a packed house

It was standing room only at the Columbia Metro Convention Center Friday where more than 500 local officials and organizational leaders learned details about how to get federal stimulus money. The event was sponsored by the Municipal Association of South Carolina. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley led the show. Riley, a Democrat, said the concern is that some smaller governments might not take advantage of the funding.  “That’s why we held this.  And you know, in most states, this kind of event would be held by the state’s governor, and would have been organized sooner.  We realized that that wasn’t happening in South Carolina.  That’s why Mayor Coble and I got together, because we wanted to make sure that smaller communities and all communities had the information they need.  I’ve been to the White House a few times, and it’s a lot of information to keep up with, even for us.”   
Riley said he learned some things during the summit that he didn’t know before, that the City of Charleston will benefit from that. Riley said smaller, rural communities need the funds more because their unemployment rates are higher.  But he said all towns in the state can benefit.  “It’s very important that local government understand all of the resources that might be available to them, and that we in South Carolina take advantage of every dollar that can be brought to our state and our communities, to help put people to work and to create assets of value.” 
Mayor Coble said the City of Columbia has been working to get its share.   “No question about it, we’re going to hire more police officers, buy more police equipment, build roads and homes and stimulate our economy.”
Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Ike McLeese pointed out that the military is a $6 billion per-year industry in the Palmetto State. McLeese said local and state officials working together have managed to keep all of the state’s military bases open.  He said the military will get a nice share of stimulus cash.   “For the Arm there is $1.74 billion for maintenance and upgrade on facilities that have been allowed to deteriorate during the global conflict in which we’re engaged.”   
Of that, Columbia’s Fort Jackson received $19.7 million on the first allotment and may receive more. McLeese added that, in addition to stimulus funds, Fort Jackson will receive $800 million for construction over the next five years. A seminar will be held at the fort on June 17 for contractors interested in the work (contact the Columbia Chamber for more information). Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter will further benefit with major construction projects before the Third Army moves there from Georgia’s Fort McPhearson by 2011.
Special Advisor to the President and Vice President, Ed DeSeve from the Office of Management and Budget, talked to the crowd by way of telephone from his Washington office. Deseve said that the stimulus project is an opportunity to change the face of the nation, as the Works Progress Administration or “W.P.A.” and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation or “R.F.C.” did in the 1930s.   “We’re all hoping that the kind of things that we’ll be doing under the Recovery Act will mirror the kinds of things that were done during wonderful government projects, like a large dam, or other projects throughout the country that have changed the face of our country.” 
If you’re a local official, organization, or individual who couldn’t make it to the Stimulus Summit, you can go to the Municipal Association’s website,  for details of the presentations.   The presentations will be posted by April 20, 2009.