Communities Envision Growth as They Pursue New Prisons

By Scott Charton Of The | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

Communities Envision Growth as They Pursue New Prisons


Scott Charton Of The, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Talk that a prison might come to town once sparked protests in Missouri communities by people worried about local image, economics and security. Not anymore.

Dozens of local governments have expressed interest in getting one of two new maximum-security prisons proposed by Gov. Mel Carnahan. Some are more serious prison-seekers than others - but all applicants would like to have an economic bonanza.

To understand this change in attitude, consider the boom in Bowling Green. The northeast Missouri community's population of about 3,000 will nearly double when 1,975 inmates are moved into a new state prison on the edge of town. Bowling Green's previous largest employers were the public schools and a plant with about 150 jobs. The prison project will eventually bring in 500 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs. In response, says City Administrator Joe Smith, a new motel has opened. So have a new McDonald's, the town's second grocery and a new convenience store. A soda pop distributor was planning to leave town; now its facility is expanding. "Amazing - big impact. Everybody tells me nothing happened around here for the last 20 years, and suddenly we have 25 to 30 building permits a month," Smith said. "It's a big shot in the arm. We have apartments and houses being built. We have noticed people coming into the community, a big upturn there. And we have also noticed a big difference in how businesses are looking at us. They talk to us every day," he says. The city's upfront investment was about $300,000, in partnership with surrounding Pike County and the nearby town of Louisiana. That bought 113 acres of privately owned land for the prison, and paid for a three-quarter-mile entrance road, all donated to the state. Bowling Green is also adding money paid by the prison to its own local financial base to build a 750,000-gallon waste-water treatment plant, a 2 million gallon water pumping plant, a new water tower and a web of water mains. This kind of growth is tantalizing to small towns, and many picked up applications to be host to one of the new prisons. The deadline for applications is Monday. Smith says patience, luck, timing and strong legislative advocacy helped Bowling Green. The community's application also scored high in rankings by a state-paid consulting firm that winnowed the field. …

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