TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Along with his constitutional responsibility of presiding over the United States Senate, Vice President Joe Biden is also the guy charged with keeping an eye on the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program. He will give us an update on that tomorrow from Washington.
But out in the actual economy, stimulus money is trickling down to projects across the country. We’ve been keeping tabs on one of them the past six months or so. The Coconino Rural Environment Corps just outside Flagstaff in Northern Arizona. It employs young people in a slew of mostly outdoor occupations like trail building and habitat maintenance. Dustin Woodman manages the project. Dustin, good to talk to you again.
DUSTIN WOODMAN: Great to talk to you again, Kai. Thanks for having us.
Ryssdal: So we had in you on the air I guess back in June. What’s been going on with you stimulus-wise since then?
WOODMAN: A great deal. We’ve actually brought on our first entirely recovery-funded crews. We’ve brought on 19 employees under recovery funding. And we’ve put through them our training curriculum, and we have them currently out on the field, doing a great variety of natural resource conservation work.
Ryssdal: We went back over the tape before I came in here, and it was about 55 or 56 that you wanted to hire. And you just tell me now that you had what 19 or 20?
WOODMAN: That’s true, we decided that because of the challenges in matching resources for these recovery grants that we would stagger our program a little bit. So we’ve actually completed a second recruitment cycle, and we’re going to be starting additional recovery members the first week of October.
Ryssdal: Let me ask you to turn to the guy next to you, Russ Dickerson. He’s a supervisor on one of the Coconino crews out there. Russ, what’s it been like for you out there, having gotten this new job?
RUSS DICKERSON: Oh, it’s great. Because of all the recovery funds, I got an opportunity to be a supervisor for a recovery-funded crew.
Ryssdal: So what kind of work are you doing out there?
DICKERSON: Well, we’ve been to the Grand Canyon for the last two trips, working on the South Kaibab Trail and reinforcing it so that the mules don’t do too much damage. And this next trip we’re doing general trial maintenance near Flagstaff.
Ryssdal: Yeah, those mules are ugly out on that trail, I’ll tell you what. So listen tell me about the folks who have been hired, Russ, and who you are working with. Where do they come from, and what does this opportunity mean to them, do you think?
DICKERSON: Well, we’re coming from all different backgrounds. I think four of the people on my crew already have college degrees. And then four are kind of somewhere in the high school, not yet finished with undergraduate realm. I think it means a whole lot. People apply for this job because it’s the sort of thing they want to do. It gives people an opportunity to do a lot of self-reflection, to work in the woods, and just to get a whole bunch of experiences that they’ve never had before.
Ryssdal: Do I have it right that you named your crew after the stimulus package?
DICKERSON: Yeah, our crew is named ARRA. It’s how it is pronounced. That’s the pronunciation of an acronym for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Ryssdal: ‘Merican, yes, very clever you guys are out there. Dustin, are you expecting any more money out of the stimulus package?
WOODMAN: We are actually. We’re looking forward to a new program that we’re hoping to start up this fall in the area of residential energy conservation. And we’re looking forward to some additional recovery funds from the Department of Energy to help fund that program. The recovery funding certainly has added additional administrative work for us. It’s basically added 25 to 50 percent to our programmings with the existing capacity of existing staff. So it’s been a challenge definitely, but all of us are committed to do our part towards local economic recovery.
Ryssdal: You know, Northern Arizona is a rural place. It’s not a place you think of really when you think of economic development. How necessary were these jobs for that region?
WOODMAN: You know, extremely necessary, I believe. One of the populations most heavily hit by the current economic crisis in our area, and I think across the country, is the age group that we focus on — young adults and youth aged 15-25. So providing jobs and job training opportunities for that age group specifically helps stimulate the economy through their spending. And the side effects of that are the work that gets performed on public lands that help to enrich recreational experiences for tourists and hopefully thereby stimulating the tourist industry, which is a huge piece of the local economy.
Ryssdal: Dustin Woodman. He’s a program manager for the Coconino Rural Environment Corps out in Northern Arizona. Russ Dickerson works for him on one of the crews out there that was made possible by stimulus money. Guys, thanks a lot.
WOODMAN: Thanks for the opportunity, Kai.
DICKERSON: Hey, thank you very much.