First effects of stimulus program seen in South, Southwest projects

Aaron Wilson, right, of Pasadena, Calif., a recently hired worker with the California Conservation Corps, clears hiking trails with other CCC workers in the San Bernardino National Forest in Hemet, Calif., in this March 16 file photo. Eight of the 18 CCC workers were hired by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the recently approved federal stimulus plan.

? Businesses report creating or saving more than 30,000 jobs in the first months of President Barack Obama’s stimulus program, with military construction leading the way and states in the South and Southwest seeing the biggest boost, according to a government oversight board.

The numbers in its report, released Thursday, are based on jobs linked to less than $16 billion in federal contracts and represent just a sliver of the $787 billion stimulus package. But they offer the first hard data on the early effects of the program. Until now, the White House has relied on economic models to argue that the program eased the recession.

Obama has set a goal of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.

The construction industry had the strongest job numbers in Thursday’s report, accounting for about a third of the jobs, thanks to contracts to repair military bases.

“It’s kind of carrying us, allowing us to retain employees until the economy makes a rebound,” said Matt Rathsack, director of operations at the Kentucky engineering firm, TetraTech, which reported saving 71 jobs thanks to an Army Corps of Engineers construction project. “We’ve already pared back and cut back. The staff is on reduced hours. The feeling is we’re coming around the corner. We’re optimistic.”

Environmental jobs also provided a big boost. CH2M Hill, the contractor in charge of cleaning the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, said nearly 2,200 jobs had been created in southwest Washington state.