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"Shovel-Ready" Projects All the Rage

President Obama's fondness for shovel-ready projects calls for us to unearth the history of this term.

Feb/Mar 09
Shaun Donnelly, President, Evince Corp., and Co-Managing Director,
© John Rennison, The Hamilton Spectator
Shaun Donnelly, President, Evince Corp., and Co-Managing Director, © John Rennison, The Hamilton Spectator
According to my local paper, Newsday, "Long Island (NY) is shovel-ready." This statement was made in reference to a convoy of 83 cranes, dump trucks, and payloaders stretching nearly a mile long along a major roadway to illustrate the bi-county region's lack of construction jobs. Facing revenue shortfalls, local government officials want to reinstate construction projects now on hold using the federal funds the Obama administration has secured for rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, and the convoy was formed to call attention to this problem.

In fact, President Obama recently told Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" that he's met with several governors, and "all of them have projects that are shovel-ready." The new President wants to put millions of Americans to work building these projects, since he claims that shovel-ready projects exist all across the nation. Wow - that's a lot of shovels - but where did this "shovel-ready" term come from?

Here at Area Development we know the answer to that question because the term "shovel-ready" has been bandied about in economic development circles for the last decade or so. It was, in fact, coined and copyrighted by none other than our very own Shaun Donnelly while working with Niagara Mohawk Power, which is now part of National Grid. Donnelly is president of Evince Corp., an economic development web design and marketing company, and co-managing director - along with Area Development's publisher Dennis Shea - of, Area Development's buildings and sites

According to Art Hamlin, the director of economic development for National Grid, in the late 1990s executives at Niagara Mohawk wanted to identify ways of readying brownfield sites in upstate New York for development, consequently making them more marketable. Thus, the shovel-ready concept was developed in 1997 in Buffalo, New York, by Shaun Donnelly for Niagara Mohawk.

The shovel-ready premise is based upon the need for economic development agencies to create an inventory of potential properties available for very quick development and consequential job-growth. This can be achieved through pre-permitting, pre-zoning, infrastructure development, and community pre-approval prior to an actual proposed site project. In addition, shovel-ready infrastructure programs typically include fast-track permitting and the development of transportation, utilities (electric, gas, water, and sewage), and telecommunication services as incentives to attract investment and development. The shovel-ready concept has grown rapidly with programs sponsored by virtually every state, numerous counties, cities, towns, and utilities, as well as in Canada and Europe.

Now that the term "shovel-ready" has fallen from the lips of a President, it has become more poetic than prosaic - even perhaps worthy of some linguistic awards. In fact, the American Dialect Society has deemed "shovel-ready" the winner of its "Most Likely to Succeed" word or phrase, and the term came in fifth for "Word of the Year." And according to the Daily Kos, "shovel-ready" is among the 10 phrases that will shape politics in 2009. Shaun Donnelly would never have imagined his turn of phrase would now be turning heads.

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