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Which investments give the U.S. the most jobs for the buck?

January 26, 2011 | 12:51 pm

President Obama's State of the Union address championed innovation and investment in smart technology, while at the same time proposing a federal spending freeze. Any government spending, in other words, is going to have to have some hefty bang for its buck.

Debates on federal spending are likely to now increase, even as the country sputters back from an economic downturn and tries to encourage the private sector to create jobs. Ask broadband lovers and they'll say jobs will be created by investing in broadband Internet access. Solar advocates will want more spending on solar projects.

The folks over at the Milken Institute have come up with a nifty calculator to figure out just how many jobs these infrastructure investments could create. The calculator lists a number of projects, including highway, broadband, offshore drilling, smart grid and renewable energy sources. You can punch in a proposed investment figure, in billions of dollars, and the calculator will tell you how many direct jobs the investment will create, and the economic output.

Spend $100 billion on inland waterways, for example, and Milken researchers say you'll create 2.6 million jobs and an economic output of $312 billion. Spend the same amount of onshore oil and gas exploration and development and offshore drilling, and you'll generate just 1.9 million jobs, but the same economic output ($312 billion).

The biggest job generators, according to the calculator, are highway and transit projects, drinking water and wastewater projects and smart grid projects.

Ross DeVol, director of economic research at Milken, says the calculator -- and a report that goes with it -- show the need for smart public-private partnerships on investment, especially at a time when the country needs jobs.

"If we’re concerned about whether or not we have sufficient job growth, why not attempt to pull forward as much infrastructure investment as we can?" he said.


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-- Alana Semuels

Photo: Photovoltaic panels are part of the Port of San Diego's Green Ports program. Credit: via Flickr