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Feds fund projects big, small

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

We should all feel closer today to towns in Alabama, Texas and Massachusetts. They've got an unemployment problem, and we the taxpayers will help them handle it. Never mind how far away.

In just the latest nibble, we'll spend $8.1 million.

Not much, granted. It takes only a minute, literally, for the federal government to spend that much at the current rate of $10 billion a day.

Still, $8.1 million once was “real money.” And couldn't the city fathers of Jasper, Ala., lay their own 20-inch water main? How did this get to be a project for Americans everywhere?

Because it will “create jobs” — the holy grail of government spending nowadays, justifying what used to be called plain ol' pork barrel spending, a favor to special interests.

Business is a willing partner. Can't blame it all on politicians.

The Jasper grant is just under $1 million, one of a half-dozen announced the other day by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The water main will help support the “planned expansion of two major companies in the city's industrial park,” read the press release. Think 300 jobs and $29.5 million in private investment, at least according to the rosy come-on by those who got the grant.

That raises a question: With so much private investment raring to go, why go to taxpayers?

But the money's there, people. Shovel-ready “infrastructure” spending.

It's so easy to assert that taxpayer “investment” is just the final piece, the linchpin that makes job creation possible. Without it, nothing. It's hard to believe, but what effort goes into persuading us otherwise? Not to mention the unadvertised costs in expertise, consulting and lobbying.

Pritzker's gift pack of grants claimed to support 1,373 jobs and $150 million in forthcoming private investments in six states.

A $1.4 million item for Worcester, Mass., is an eyebrow raiser. It's to Becker College to rehab a building for a “New Ventures Center” at the Massachusetts Digital Gaming Institute. Gaming? Essential job creation, evidently. The taxpayers' ante in this case is for computer labs and space for research, design and business startups.

An airport authority in Greensboro, N.C., will get $1.5 million for taxiway improvements to benefit Honda Aircraft Co.'s “aviation cluster” there.

If a region's distress is not so much lack of jobs but lack of people, a government grant can handle that, too.

La Feria, Texas, will get $1 million to help build a “Technology and Success Center” to promote “workforce development” in nearby rural communities. Cameron Works Inc. of Brownsville, Texas, gets $270,000 for a mobile training unit to bring job training to “isolated areas of Cameron County.”

Any money for Pennsylvania in this minute's worth of federal spending? Righto.

The Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. gets $1.5 million for roads, water and sewer lines and landscaping in its business park in Greenfield Township. Project makers predict 200 jobs and $40 million in future private investments.

What happened to localities doing local development? And business firms investing without running to Washington for industrial food stamps?

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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