In Tennessee, Baking Pie With Stimulus Funds

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Earlier this year, the unemployment rate in Tennessee's Perry County had skyrocketed to 27 percent. So Tennessee's portion of the stimulus package is going toward workers' wages at local businesses — like a bakery. Guy Raz talks with county mayor John Carroll.

GUY RAZ, host:

On to a different of recovery now, economic recovery, the $787 billion stimulus package. Some of that money is helping to provide relief to places like Perry County, Tennessee. Just a few months ago, it was suffering depression era unemployment levels. 27 percent of the county was out of work after an auto parts factory shut down.

Now, Tennessee governor, Phil Bredesen, is spreading the stimulus money around the county to fund jobs and state agencies and private companies. And Perry County's mayor, John Carroll, has been giving the good news to businesses, including a bakery that's been a local institution for decades.

Mayor JOHN CARROLL (Perry County, Tennessee): Armstrong Pies was originally established in 1946.

RAZ: What kind of pies do they make?

Mayor Carroll: All kinds of turnovers.

RAZ: So, apple, lemon, cherry…

Mayor CARROLL: Strawberry, chocolate, Bavarian cream.

RAZ: So you basically went to the Armstrong Pie Company and you said, listen, guys. We can provide you free labor. The government will actually pay their salaries and their benefits. Can you put them to work? Is that essentially what you said?

Mayor CARROLL: That's it. And they looked at us and said, are you sure?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor CARROLL: Now, this is something nobody has ever heard of before.

RAZ: Right.

Mayor CARROLL: And quite innovative, I've got to admit, on Governor Bresden's part.

RAZ: What other companies are you working with aside from the pie company?

Mayor CARROLL: Everything from local restaurants to hotels to state inn, county and city agencies.

RAZ: So some of these business like the Armstrong Pie Company are getting free labor provided for by the government. And that's okay, that's aloud under the stimulus program?

Mayor CARROLL: That's allowed under this program, yes. What the money has done is taking people that were already on unemployment and has put those people back to work. What you've done is what money from one pot to another. You're actually paying the workers to be at work somewhere instead of being at home.

RAZ: I see. So, otherwise, they would just be receiving an unemployment check.

Mayor CARROLL: They would be receiving a check. But at the end of the day, they wouldn't be able to be providing anything back to the community.

RAZ: How many people do you estimate have you put to work now?

Mayor CARROLL: Right now, there's probably between 300 and 310 that's gone to work.

RAZ: And how many people live in the county total?

Mayor CARROLL: 7,600.

RAZ: How drastically have you cut unemployment now?

Mayor CARROLL: Well, we've come down from 27 to 22. But I think whenever we see the next month's unemployment numbers, I think we'll be down into the (unintelligible).

RAZ: But when the unemployment rate reach 27 percent, you didn't really have to the time to sort of think about a big infrastructure project. And you didn't have the luxury to wait for tenders and projects to be proposed. You just had to get it out there.

Mayor CARROLL: I had to get the money out. We would certainly love to see a long-term project like improvements to the roads or something that something that either put people to work on today and still have benefit from it 40, 50 years down the road. But since we didn't have anything that was already in the pipeline, you know, this was the only thing that we had that could get the people back to work in the masses.

RAZ: The stimulus bill was controversial, particularly in parts of the South. Can you understand the concern of some governors in the South who have tried to refuse some of the stimulus money for fear of its impact on the federal deficit?

Mayor CARROLL: Well, yes - now, I didn't design the stimulus plan. And had it been mine, there would have been some changes. But this is a plan that we have so it wasn't what I had originally envisioned for the stimulus plan, but I am thankful for the investment that has been made.

RAZ: How long can you sustain it? I mean, what happens after this program ends?

Mayor CARROLL: Well, what this has done is given us an opportunity to live to fight another battle.

RAZ: Right.

Mayor CARROLL: We've got until next September to continue our efforts to try to bring manufacturing or service type jobs that will have a long-term effect.

RAZ: So, so far it seems to be working, huh?

Mayor CARROLL: It's working good for now. Before the additional workers and the additional investment and equipment, the Armstrong Pie Company was making around 3,000 pies a week. They've been able to take it to the point they're making around 3,000 a day now. So a pretty significant increase.

RAZ: Do you eat one pretty regularly?

Mayor CARROLL: Try to.

RAZ: Which is your favorite?

Mayor CARROLL: Strawberry. Highly recommend it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: John Carroll is the mayor of Perry County, Tennessee.

Mayor Carroll, thank you so much.

Mayor CARROLL: I appreciate your time and I appreciate the opportunity.

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