Business owner shares stimulus success story

March 1, 2010 6:30:39 PM PST
Stimulus funding saved one Oakland business from collapse, and Monday that owner shared his story of success with federal officials in town to see just how the money is being put to use.

When Kesete Kifle started his construction business in 2002, it was just himself.

"I took a chance to quit my job and start my business," Kifle said. "I'm happy with it."

He was happy until the middle of 2007 when he says his construction jobs and the industry ground to a halt.

"It was scary here," he said.

When President Barack Obama announced his stimulus program, Kifle starting hanging out at City Hall with his ear to the ground.

"I know who's bringing money from D.C., I know who's doing what, who's ready," he said.

He heard about a job painting four blocks of public housing, put in a bid and won.

"Oh it's big -- about half a million dollar job and it's a good size for this economy," Kifle said.

At Oakland City Hall Monday the deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development cited Kifle's construction as one of the stimulus success stories. Kifle heard the deputy secretary describe his success. Then the federal agency officials boarded a hydrogen fuel cell bus to tour more of the city's stimulus-funded projects.

Mayor Ron Dellums says only Oakland and Philadelphia are getting this kind of federal attention.

"The point that today makes writ large -- Oakland is on the map, Oakland is there," Dellums said.

"The rest of the country is looking toward Oakland," Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said.

Lee beamed as she said Oakland is a shining example of stimulus money helping minority-owned businesses. But polls show about half the country believes the stimulus has not worked.

"This story has not gotten out," Adolfo Carrio, head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs said.

One of the reasons that message has not gotten out as well as the administration would have hoped is that the extended fight over healthcare has sucked up all the oxygen. The White House is hoping that events like this one in Oakland will help turn the corner.