Steve Schnitzmeier blows insulation in an area home as part of the stimulus-funded winterizing effort.

The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Carpenters to weatherize homes and a dental hygienist for a Mankato clinic are among the first jobs to be created in south-central Minnesota by the federal stimulus.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed by President Barack Obama in February, is supposed to create or save 3.5 million jobs nationwide, including 66,000 in Minnesota.

There’s no local tally of jobs created, but early recipients of stimulus money have begun hiring.

They include the Open Door Clinic, which received a $1.3 million grant. The paperwork was first submitted in September 2007, and federal officials only had to take it off the shelf, said Sarah Kruse, head of the clinic.

It essentially doubles the clinic’s size, and they’re looking to hire a medical director, dental hygienist, two family nurse practitioners and support staff. The grant was announced in March, but it takes up to four months to fill some positions, she said.

Meredith Salsbery, Congressman Tim Walz’s spokeswoman and stimulus coordinator, said most of the $787 billion stimulus will be spent through existing programs. That way, money can get to pre-approved contractors.

For example, stimulus money to make homes more energy-efficient is being given to agencies that have done this work for the government for many years.

“You know that they’re good actors and you know what they’re gonna do with it and they’ve got people waiting in line,” Salsbery said.

Walz voted for the stimulus package.

The Minnesota Valley Action Council is the weatherization provider for this region and hopes to use its $5.6 million in stimulus money to work on between 780 and 1,014 homes by Sept. 30, 2010.

The nonprofit expects to fill up to 12 positions, Executive Director John Woodwick said. That includes two auditors, eight work crew members and two office staff.

Not all of the stimulus funding will create jobs, though.

Mankato engineering firm R.L. Engebretson is administering a contract with local public housing agencies to add garages and improve the exteriors of public housing units in Mankato and Eagle Lake.

A home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, for example, will receive porch and siding upgrades.

Tim Auringer, a specification writer with the firm, said the company hasn’t added jobs, nor does it have specific guidelines to create jobs for the contractors that will be hired to actually perform the work.

But “it keeps our people continually employed.”

“It’s not a giant pot, but everything helps,” Auringer said.

Other stimulus spending creates jobs elsewhere.

The city of Mankato was recently awarded $700,000 in stimulus money to buy two buses. The city would usually have to pay 20 percent of those costs, so the federal spending saves the city $140,000.

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