Mixed bag: Stimulus Money Effects Vary for Virginian Businesses

With varying success, Roanoke Valley businesses seek work funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Two Roanoke Valley businesses describe enduring some unintended consequences from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

One nabbed a national competitor that allegedly self-certified a Chinese product as American-made and subsequently won a federal contract -- which may or may not have been stimulus funded.

On the flip side, with economic conditions still bumpier than a potholed road, two Roanoke-based road construction companies are celebrating stimulus-funded work.

Adams Construction won a $15 million stimulus contract in July to repair and pave a total of about 12 miles of Interstate 81 north of the Cloverdale/Fincastle exit. Lanford Bros., as a subcontractor, landed a piece of that project.

"We were elated," said Rick James, executive vice president for Adams Construction. "It could not have come at a better time, frankly."

Otherwise, for now it seems ARRA-related contracts have not exactly rained down on local companies. A few other Roanoke Valley businesses, including AECOM, formerly HSMM, have benefitted indirectly from economic stimulus-funded projects. Some, like Spectrum Design, haven't found a likely project on which to bid.

Adams Construction, Lanford Bros.

Powerful lights illuminate the nighttime work between mile markers 150 and 156 on I-81. Both northbound and southbound lanes are being repaired and paved.

Lanford Bros. is shaving off about five inches of asphalt pavement to access and remove cracked, broken or otherwise compromised concrete slabs beneath the highway's paved surface. Black base asphalt replaces the slabs and restores the road's structural integrity.

Adams Construction follows with new pavement.

Adams won the contract through competitive bidding.

"We got the job the latter part of July and started work in the middle of August," he said. "Business has been very poor this year, and we've had a hard time keeping busy."

James said Adams previously had laid off about 15 percent of its workforce of about 100.

"I tell you, we would have had to lay off many more people had it not been for this job," he said.

And he said the I-81 work is "likely to last into spring or early summer of next year."

Ken Lanford is president of Lanford Bros.

"That's the only job we actually have that is tied to the stimulus," Lanford said. "My feeling is that there just hasn't been many projects to bid on."

Of the recovery act's $787 billion, about $27 billion was allocated to states "to provide critical repairs to our nation's crumbling roads and bridges."


What was once Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern, an architectural and engineering firm founded in Roanoke, is now a part of AECOM, an international company. In Roanoke, Cecil Doyle, former HSMM president, is now AECOM's regional chief executive for the mid-Atlantic region.

He said the Roanoke office has provided preliminary design and engineering services for a new bridge over the New River at Narrows, a project supported by $20 million in stimulus funding for construction.

AECOM's Roanoke office has provided design and engineering services for a new bridge to replace the Robertson Bridge over the Dan River in Danville, a project with $29 million in stimulus money for construction.

AECOM is also involved in planning and engineering for redesigning the congested Elm Avenue interchange off Interstate 581. Doyle said the project does not have stimulus funding yet but is being developed in case extra funds become available through lower than expected bids on other stimulus projects.

ARRA money does not cover design and engineering costs for the bridge and interchange projects. Those costs are paid from other funding sources.

Doyle said stimulus money is "beginning to have some localized impact." But he said "shovel ready" criteria, which favor projects comparatively ready to launch, have limited opportunities to move forward with stimulus funding for complex transportation projects. As a result, he said, ARRA "has not generally produced a significant windfall, so far, for the design industry."

Spectrum Design

John Garland is president of Spectrum Design, an architectural, planning and engineering firm in Roanoke. No windfall there, either. Nary a breeze.

Garland said the company geared up for pursuit of the much-ballyhooed "shovel ready" projects. Spectrum worked with Access in Roanoke to market its readiness for projects within one of several specialty areas -- the design of educational facilities.

Although stimulus money is earmarked for many school districts, most funds seems devoted to operations, he said, and not capital projects.

"People in my business here are looking for work and needing work, and it's just not there to be found," he said. "From our perspective, [ARRA] has been a big disappointment so far."


John Mason, president and co-founder of Valcom in Roanoke County, also links ARRA, potential school projects and disappointment.

Valcom, founded in 1977, has about 200 employees and manufactures electronics communications equipment, including intercom systems for schools.

Stimulus funding allocated for schools has actually hurt his business, Mason said.

"It was because some of the projects that would have been done with normal funding were moved over in the budgeting process to be covered by stimulus funds and then the funds did not arrive in time to allow the systems to be installed during vacation shutdowns," he said.

Among other customers, Valcom serves schools in Virginia, Roanoke and elsewhere. Summer is a crucial season because systems "can be updated with minimal disruption," Mason said.

Valcom's sales are "substantially down" this year, he said.

Still, even considering these "unintended circumstances" of ARRA, Mason said he hopes the stimulus program helps the U.S. economy recover.

"We are all in this together," he said.

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