Marketplace Scratch Pad

Promoting the stimulus

Scott Jagow Jul 27, 2009

I was in the Midwest over the weekend, and I saw a couple of signs that looked like this:

A friend of mine pointed to one and asked, how much do you think those signs cost? Good question.

It depends on the state. From the Chicago Tribune:

The state of Michigan estimates each sign costs about $400 to $500. The Illinois Department of Transportation puts the cost of each one at about $300 to make, with the total price rising to about $1,000 including labor, wooden mounting posts and other installation costs. Colorado officials estimate a medium-sized sign costs $750 to $1,200 installed…

There were 4,840 highway projects funded through the Recovery Act nationwide as of June 22. If every one had a Recovery Act sign costing $800, it would cost nearly $3.9 million – roughly $1 for every $4,000 spent on highway projects so far worth about $15.4 billion.

A Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call, has this description:

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is spending $60,000 of its stimulus money on $2,000 road signs to highlight projects funded by the massive economic recovery package…

”Obviously it is important to educate the public about where the recovery dollars are working in the commonwealth,” PennDOT’s (Steve) Chizmar said. ”The public deserves and has a right to know.”

He has a point, but maybe the message this time ought to be — every dollar counts, and we’ve decided to forgo the usual “we’re doing this for you” promotion. If you’d like to know where the money is going, visit our website… or something like that.

To that end, Virginia has decided not to post Recovery Act signs. But New York takes the cake on this one. Last week, New York pulled the plug on its stimulus signage program. Perhaps that’s because it was going to cost almost $1 million, and New York’s governor mistakenly thought the federal government was requiring the signs. No, simply encouraging them. From Syracuse.com:

Under the original specifications, large signs would have cost as much as $8,300 to make and install. The requirements were trimmed earlier this week to allow for less expensive materials, bringing the cost of a large sign down to between $4,000 and $5,600…

Jerry Scouten, an Auburn (NY) sign maker, has been complaining to state and federal officials about the signs for weeks even though they were boosting his business.

“No one understood why I was complaining,” Scouten said. “As a taxpayer, this is wrong. The money could have been better spent.”

When about the only people benefiting from the sign-making are complaining about it, it’s probably a good idea to rethink the strategy.

Wallet Pop has a pretty good take on this:

If they really wanted to properly credit the funding, perhaps the signs should read something like “Funded by loans from the nation of China.”

Here’s a photoshopped version of the sign. Take a close look at the logo in the left-hand corner:

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