By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
After multiple false starts, years of fruitless planning and no opening timeline for the now federally-owned Thomson, Ill., correctional center, area leaders remain hopeful, but guarded about the potential impact of the recent sale.
“At this point I am cautiously optimistic. We have been disappointed twice in the past,” Clinton Mayor Mark Vulich said.
Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported there is no timeline in place for the construction, hiring or opening of the prison, leaders in the cities throughout the area are still preparing for the potential influx of prison employees and their families who choose to live in the area.
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A study conducted in 2010 by Dave Swenson, an associate scientist with Iowa State University department of economics, suggested 35 percent of the more than 1,100-person prison workforce would locate in Clinton.
Realtor Steve Howes predicts some of the possible prison employees coming to Clinton will look for rental units, of which the city has approximately 1,400 both occupied and unoccupied. However, it has been around 30 years since a new rental complex was constructed, Howes estimated.
While some employees will be renters, some also will likely be homebuyers. Currently, Howes said, there are 220 houses listed for sale in Clinton, 24 in Camanche and 22 in Fulton.
“The question becomes, do we have enough,” he said.
The type of housing available is also a factor. The average salary for correctional officers, which account for the largest share of employees at a federal correctional facility, will range between $31,315 and $55,844, above Clinton’s per capita income of $21,700 and Carroll County’s of $25,914.
Howes predicts houses in the $100,000 to $200,000 range will be sought.
“We’ve got to have an up-to-date housing stock. We are competing with other communities,” Howes said.
According to Swenson’s study, besides the 35 percent projected to live in Clinton, an estimated 21 percent of prison employees would locate in the Quad-Cities, 8 percent in Fulton, Ill., 6 percent in Thomson, Ill., 5 percent in Clinton County outside of Clinton, 9 percent outside of the 65-minute commute radius and the remaining 14 percent would locate in other cities within the 65-minute commute area.
Thirty miles east of the Thomson correctional center on U.S. 30 in Sterling, Ill., Greater Sterling Development Corporation Executive Director Heather Sotelo said her community is prepared for the potential influx of families to the area.
“We feel it will have a big impact on Sterling,” Sotelo said. “Because of our location and ease to get to Chicago and the suburbs, our award-winning schools and shopping, there are a lot of benefits to live in this area.”
Sotelo is hoping the prison opening will attract between 75 to 100 new families. In Sterling alone, she said there are 240 houses on the market and new housing developments starting in the near future.
Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard is not anticipating a substantial population increase, but said the city is ready for new residents or visitors.
“There are a lot of options between here and there,” Shumard said. “No matter where people go, we’ve made ourselves a retail center in this region.”
Shumard also describes himself as cautiously optimistic about the potential impacts of the sale.
“We’re not counting any taxes yet,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
While development in Clinton is not expected to boom overnight, City Administrator Jeff Horne said the city is prepared for those who do choose to relocate to Clinton.
“We have a lot of zoned residential land that hasn’t been built on yet,” Horne said. “The private sector is going to play a role in this. We’re not developers, but we’re here to support those who do want to develop.”
Clinton Regional Development Corporation President Steven Ames said development is currently going on in Clinton and hopes the prison purchase will encourage developers to break ground on more.
“We’ve got housing going up. It’s always been a challenge, but with this now ready demand for housing, it takes away the risk factor for developers,” Ames said.
Ames added the prison opening further underlines the need to make U.S. 30 four lanes in Illinois and Iowa.
Horne also said the city has other infrastructure projects in place to be equipped for a slight population increase such as sewers and roads. Namely, 19th Avenue North, which would likely be more heavily traveled by prison employees going to and from work, will support the influx.
When the prison is fully operational, it is expected to generate more than $122 million in operating expenditures (including salaries), $19 million in labor income and $61 million in local business sales.
Ames also predicts 1.7 to two jobs will be created for each of the more than 1,100 jobs created at the prison.
“The economic impact to our region is going to be significant. We all stand to gain tremendously,” he said.