A new road and 25 jobs: What stimulus cash buys

A small construction company in Rhode Island is taking the state's first economic recovery project to the streets.

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By Emily Maltby, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Michael D'Ambra's construction company has brought 25 workers on to complete its first stimulus-funded project.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- When the first stimulus-funded infrastructure contract from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation went up for bid in February, Michael D'Ambra jumped at the opportunity to score a job for his shrinking company.

The staff of D'Ambra Construction, a family-run company in Warwick, R.I., dropped from 150 workers to 75 last year. "It was dismal," D'Ambra says of his firm's workload. "In the winter, it's normal for the [number of employees] to go down, but this spring, we couldn't call back very many."

D'Ambra Construction started landing Department of Transportation (DOT) contracts 20 years ago, and typically derives more than half of its annual sales from the work. Drawing on his decades of experience with the contracting process, D'Ambra placed a bid for the stimulus job. Moving quickly, the DOT awarded his firm the deal for $2.5 million.

On March 12, at a ceremony held by Governor Donald Carcieri, D'Ambra signed the contract. Less than two weeks later, his company broke ground, hiring back 25 of the workers it had let go.

The project calls for resurfacing and improving curbing, sidewalks and guardrails along 2.3 miles of Route 138, a major road that runs through the town of Tiverton, near the Massachusetts border. D'Ambra Construction has already finished half the job and expects to wrap it up by August.

Paul Durand, owner of Durand's Auto Gallery in Tiverton, calls the construction "a big mess in front of my shop" but is happy it's happening. "It needed to be done," he says. "There were potholes everywhere."

The Route 138 project was one of many that the DOT had on a list of federally approved jobs that were ready to be awarded, but it sat stagnant until the state knew it would have money to finance it. When the stimulus money became available, officials pounced.

"When there was the first inkling of a stimulus in September, we started to put together a list of projects that could be shovel-ready before inauguration," says DOT Director Michael Lewis.

The DOT has 53 projects it plans to fund with stimulus money, more than a dozen of which have been awarded so far. The department expects the projects to create 1,500 direct jobs in the construction industry and at least 3,000 indirect jobs. Much of Rhode Island's economy is made up of small business, and, particularly in the construction sector, government contract work is the bread and butter of their business.

"In September, Rhode Island was going neck-and-neck with Michigan in terms of unemployment," Lewis says. "It's crucial to their survival that they have predictable work."

D'Ambra will get to keep the workers he hired for the Route 138 resurfacing job. One month after being awarded that project, D'Ambra bid on and won a second DOT contract. The $5 million job, which will take place a few miles south of Tiverton on West Main Road, will be similar to the first contract but will also include the installation of new traffic signals and pavement-sensor equipment. D'Ambra anticipates hiring 30 people to work the job, which will start this year and finish by October 2010.

"We're continuing to bid for other projects," he says. "I'm hopeful that the 50 we're bringing back for these projects will stay on. We'll have a backlog, so everyone can stay on payroll next year." To top of page

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