The term shovel ready is a political neologism used to describe a construction project (usually larger-scale infrastructure) where project planning, engineering and funding have advanced to the stage where laborers may immediately be employed to begin work.
Writing for the Washington Post, writer Manuel Roig-Franzia sardonically suggested that the phrase did not exist and had never been used before President Barack Obama used it during an interview with Meet the Press on 6 December 2008. Obama used the phrase to describe infrastructure projects that were ready to immediately receive stimulus funding.
Later, other commentators suggested the phrase denoted projects which were able to begin construction within a specific time-frame of "three or four months" on a use it or lose it basis.
In the US
Having originated in the United States, the term is now used generally in reference to projects which are candidates for economic stimulus spending: money put into a shovel ready project will have a more immediate impact on the economy than money spent on a project on which a great deal of time must elapse for architecture, zoning, legal considerations or other such factors before labor can be deployed on it.
In Iowa, the Seven County Corridor Alliance (Benton County, Cedar County, Iowa County, Johnson County, Jones County, Linn County and Washington County) established a Shovel Ready Certification Program to certify projects as shovel ready which will be "added to a local, regional and statewide inventory of sites with similar qualifications and will be strongly marketed".
The Georgia Department of Transportation has established specific criteria projects must meet to be considered shovel ready including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearances and relevant property acquisition requirements.
In Australia, the term is also used in relation to stimulus funding; specifically funding programs like the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program. In 2009, the term shovel-ready won the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year award.
In Scotland, the phrase is used in a similar context. For example, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil, used the term in March 2012 to describe the status of 36 infrastructure projects on a list handed to the Government of the United Kingdom for potential funding.
In Great Britain
In Great Britain, the phrase has been used on a number of occasions by Vincent De Rivaz, the Chief Executive of EDF Energy, in the context of a proposed new nuclear power station in Somerset.   
- President Obama on Meet the Press to describe projects for his stimulus plan during a Meet the Press interview - 
- Obama Brings "Shovel-Ready" Talk Into Mainstream by Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post (8 January 2009)
- "The Obama Buzzword That Hit Pay Dirt", Washington Post
- "Shovel ready" projects aim to get money working fast by Robert Gavin, Boston Globe (20 January 2009)
- Shovel Ready Iowa: Program Overview (2012)
- Georgia Department of Transportation FAQ: What does “shovel-ready” mean? (30 July 2010)
- Springs plan "shovel ready", The Mercury (4 July 2012)
- "Shovel-ready" wins Macquarie's word of year, Herald Sun (3 February 2010)
- Shovel ready projects (Press Release), Alex Neil (9 March 2012)
- Hinkley Point is "shovel ready"
- Q193 reply "We are shovel ready"
- "The project at Hinkley Point C is now “shovel-ready”"