Digging deeper on "shovel-ready"

It’s a phrase that has been on the tips of tongues of many in Washington, D.C. in the last couple of months: Shovel-ready.
In December then-President-Elect Obama talked about “shovel-ready projects all across the country” just waiting to be funded that could be targeted by a multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package.
Everyone has eagerly piled on since.



Dig in! Groundbreaking for a new BMW plant in Greer, S.C. last March.

“Local federal stimulus ‘shovel-ready’ projects ready to roll” reported The Muskegon Chronicle in late January.
Raser Technologies, a technology licensing firm active in renewable energy, told Renewable Energy World it “… will look to take advantage of any of the shovel-ready ‘green’ initiatives proposed by the Obama administration and passed into law by Congress.”
Fortune Magazine is reporting on the “Shovel-Ready Battles” between the users of asphalt and concrete, trying to get Congress to include more highway work (using asphalt) over bridge work (using concrete).

“The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association argues that concrete needs no oil and uses waste for energy. The National Asphalt Pavement Association says asphalt actually uses carbon instead of emitting it.”

Propublica related the term to the process reporters, congressional staff and public interest groups were going through sorting through all the information about the stimulus package that was rushing through Washington in January.
The phrase isn’t defined in any dictionary (although Business Facilities Magazine does a lengthy explanation in 2005).
Yet a search of the terms “stimulus” and “shovel-ready” brought up 3,736 results on a Google News search today and 124,000 results on a Google Web search. A Lexis-Nexis search of the terms brought up 2,836 results.
The website www.shovelready.com belongs to the Upstate New York economic development arm of National Grid, an electric utility. The firm told the Washington Post they started using the term in the late 1990s as a way to drum-up interest in the development of “brownfields,” the abandoned and usually contaminated industrial sites that are cleaned up and made available for development.

The company “figured entrepreneurs would be more likely to develop the brownfields if they knew in advance that the sites already had electrical service and gas and sewer lines, as well as preliminary environmental permits. But they needed a catchy way of saying that.”

But the earliest mention of the term (found through a very rough, unscientific search of Lexis-Nexis’ U.S. News sources) appears to be from The Herald of Rock Hill, South Carolina on January 9, 1996. The story, about the tough work of city road crews notes:

“The city used every truck it could, including a pickup truck with two shovel-ready men, to spread the mixture. Hinson said the sand gives cars traction on the ice, while the salt melts the slick stuff.”

So what’s does the term mean these days?
Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electric Power Research Institute, told Hearst News Services that “… those projects that focus on ‘smart’ technology and renewables and are already well planned and ‘shovel-ready’ will get a priority,” in the stimulus packages.
That means even though the Public Utility Commission has figured out how to pay for nearly $5 billion in high voltage transmission projects to bring power from West Texas wind farms to the state’s major cities and officially started the ball rolling on them last week, the Federal funds could go to bolster those efforts.
New West Politics notes the “Paradox of “Shovel-Ready” Stimulus” could “end up reinforcing the old rather than encouraging the new.”
And Black Agenda Report: A Journal of African American Political Thought and Action, describes “shovel-ready” to mean “… projects will be funded that have already been approved by the political powers-that-be in the various states.”

“Almost by definition, shovel-ready projects are those that states would do anyway, if they had the money. Thus, the $100 billion allocated for infrastructure in the House version of the economic stimulus measure will not fund any grand plan to remake America; rather, it will finance a hodgepodge of projects of varying merit that have been sanctioned by the dominant political factions in the 50 states. Mississippi will be enabled to do more of what Mississippi always does. The same thing with Ohio, Utah, and all the rest.”