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Stimulus fuels work

Paul Diederich, Industrial Builders president, said his company has landed two jobs due to the stimulus package. Dave Samson / The Forum

While orange cones and blinking lights adorning the roads may be a nuisance to drivers, they're a welcome sight for many contractors.

North Dakota is spending $383 million on statewide transportation projects this year. That includes a $105 million bump in funding from the federal economic stimulus package, said Billie Jo Lorius, North Dakota Department of Transportation communications specialist.

"This is the largest construction season we've ever had," Lorius said. "That's pretty significant."

Paul Diederich, president of Fargo-based Industrial Builders, was recently one of several builders from around the country to brief U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on the impact of the stimulus package.

"It's huge because the wind energy has fallen off considerably," Diederich said. "Housing has kind of slowed down. We're seeing a lot of competition. People who didn't use to bid highway work are bidding highway work, and it's keeping them busy."

Diederich said his company is working on two jobs so far that are a direct result of the stimulus package.

"If the money that's being spent by the stimulus wasn't being spent, it would be a much more dire situation," he said.

A lot of companies have shown interest in state projects, said Russ Hanson, Associated General Contractors of North Dakota executive vice president.

"What is a key factor in showing their interest is the bids are very competitive, they're coming in lower than what the engineers estimated," he said.

Wanzek Construction has not changed its bidding strategy and still focuses on the wind industry, said Jason Kaufman, Wanzek vice president of business development.

"We are still very busy with our key clients," he said.

Wanzek has not contracted any work as a direct impact of the stimulus package, Kaufman said.

"The most critical factor to the contracting business in today's economy is to free up the credit markets for our customers," he said. "When access to the funds improves, projects will move from delayed status to active and the contracting industry will be able to sustain their business."