St. Cloud residents not seeing results of stimulus

A welder works on a bus at New Flyer
Welders employed at New Flyer start with raw steel and end up with finished buses of all lengths and sizes. Workers weld individual pieces and then they assemble them in this pictured area.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Many observers predicted that St. Cloud would be an early indicator of how federal stimulus money is working its way through the economy, but so far, things haven't improved much.

The city is home to a bus manufacturing plant owned by the Canadian company New Flyer, which is poised to benefit from the transportation funding in the stimulus package.

Some St. Cloud residents who are unemployed remember Vice President Joe Biden's promise that New Flyer could bring green jobs to the city as early as this summer. Yet New Flyer hasn't announced any new jobs yet and some of the city's unemployed are discouraged.

St. Cloud lost nearly 2,000 jobs last year, and the city's unemployment rate is nearly 8 percent. So while plenty of St. Cloud residents are looking for work, they're not seeing any immediate results from the stimulus package. Only about 11 percent of the total stimulus money has been spent so far.

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"I don't know what he's waiting for," said Ronald Rosdahl, a St. Cloud resident who's been unemployed for the last two years.

Rosdahl is disgruntled with President Obama's stimulus package.

"He promised this money way back in November and here it is July, and I haven't seen anybody that's making any money off the stimulus," Rosdahl said. "I don't see people working that are getting stimulus money. People are still getting laid off everyday and it's not helping anybody."

"It's going to help the upper class person, that's it. And they don't need help."

Rosdahl said he wants to see more people working on road construction projects in St. Cloud. He resents the fact that the money is going to many metro transit companies across the country instead of to individual workers. Despite his current pessimism, Rosdahl said he's hopeful the stimulus eventually will help.

But another St. Cloud resident, Rick Conan, is doubtful.

Conan believes the stimulus will fail to bring jobs to the people who really need it, including himself. He points to the New Flyer plant. The company is in a good position to add more new jobs to keep up with its bus orders, yet Conan thinks his chances of getting hired at New Flyer are slim.

"Because of your education, they're not going to hire nobody unless you have experience, you're a welder, or you have engineering experience," Conan said. "It's going to help the upper class person, that's it. And they don't need help. Low-income people need the help. It's not going do a bit of good."

Other St. Cloud residents are more hopeful about getting hired at New Flyer. Misty Odle recently divorced and now she's struggling as she lives in a shelter.

"Well, there's got to be people who clean the place," Odle said. "There's got to be people who do paperwork and take orders. It could be a range of jobs. On an assembly line, I'm sure it would be easy to train in, right?"

But Odle sees one serious obstacle. The manufacturing company sits on an industrial park on the outskirts of St. Cloud. None of the city's bus lines travel close to the plant. Odle relies on the bus for transportation, just like Larry Francis Smith, who also worries about not having the right skills for a New Flyer job.

"And then, you've got to have transportation to get way out there and if you don't have that, then how are you supposed to get out there, with your thumb?" Smith said.

Smith has also been job hunting with no luck.

But not everyone is writing off New Flyer. Michael Cornelius is a hydraulic technician and he's looking for work. Cornelius said repairing the economy is a slow process and the stimulus is working at the pace that it should.

"I think that's a real good start," Cornelius said. "In my field in repairing or in assembling new machines, we are really rocked by the economy."

Cornelius has heard of New Flyer and he plans to submit a resume soon.

"So I'm really looking forward to this and I just have a really good feeling about this," he said,

Minnesota Public Radio News also talked to a handful of New Flyer employees, who say they're working more overtime than they did last year, when the company's business went up because of rising gas prices.

New Flyer has a total potential backlog of more than 9,000 buses and each year, the company manufactures about 2,400 buses. Employees say this means they are set for at least the next few years.

The company announced that its second quarter orders totaled 1,002 buses ($472 million). 627 buses are new orders. The largest orders during the second quarter came from metro transit systems in Atlanta, GA, Rochester, NY, and Milwaukee, WI. The company's backlog went up slightly from 9,236 buses in the first quarter to 9,425 in the second quarter as of early July. Ninety-three percent of the backlogged orders are for clean-air buses.

The question is if and when the company plans to hire new employees to keep up with those bus orders.