THOMSON, Ill. — Each passing day gives local communities more and more reason to be excited about the Administrative United States Penitentiary (AUSP) in Thomson. 

One local business owner — Donna Opheim, of the Route 84 diner “The Station” — said she has seen “hundreds” of new faces in her community at this point all related to the penitentiary. That’s one reason she’s continuing to try to coordinate efforts to get local enterprises exposed to the newcomers.

“There’s a lot of benefits and possibilities,” Opheim said. “Our business here has increased substantially as well as other businesses (in the area).”

On April 16, representatives from 15 area chambers of commerce presented their communities to 150 new AUSP-Thomson hires. This “Community Showcase” saw the likes of Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce president Nathan Sondgeroth as well as organizers from DeWitt, Fulton and Morrison.

The event allowed chamber executives to interact “one-on-one” with the new employees. Many of the workers have transferred in from other locations, making the Gateway region new turf to them.

“These events are designed first and foremost to be useful to the (Bureau of Prisons) employees and their families who are adding so much to our communities,” Sondgeroth said in an April 20 press release. “Participants in the Community Showcase enjoyed interacting with the BOP employees and answered questions that they or their families had. It was also clear to everyone at the event that BOP employees and their families are living within our communities now and with more anticipated in the coming months and years.”

Last month, AUSP-Thomson warden Donald Hudson told Clinton officials that the first prisoners are expected to arrive mid-May. He has the authority to hire up to 300 employees by the end of 2015, and a grand opening event can be expected sometime in 2016.

Thus, Sondgeroth and Opheim have both stated desires for communities to continue to be proactive with the development. There are vast benefits, with Opheim citing the new influx of customers to her business alone.

“All of the communities are all getting a little benefit from all of the residents,” Opheim said. “It’s pretty well spread all over the place which is good. This is just a way for them to get to know us.”

Opheim added she plans to help coordinate more community outreach efforts as AUSP-Thomson development progresses.

Assistant Editor Brenden West can be contacted at brendenwest@clintonherald.com

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