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City wants prison workers to move in; mayor offering tours

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

MORRISON – If you’re looking to work at the yet-to-open federal prison in Thomson, you’re welcome in Morrison, officials say.

In fact, one of the menu options on the city’s website is for Bureau of Prisons employees, where the city touts the local school system, hospital, parks and historic homes.

“For a personalized tour of our city, please contact our friendly staff at City Hall. ... Mayor Everett Pannier will be happy to escort you throughout our beautiful, historic city,” the website’s text reads.

The city posted that section to its website only a couple of weeks ago. At this early stage, Pannier has yet to get any takers.

Towns around the area are competing for the attention of the 1,100 people who are expected to work at the prison.

In Morrison, which is 18 miles from Thomson, an ad hoc group has formed to prepare for the prison workers who might be interested in moving to Morrison.

The group involves the city, the chamber of commerce, the economic development corporation and other entities.

“We want to make sure we’re not going in different directions,” Pannier said. “We want a united front.”

The ad hoc group, the mayor said, aims to help businesses benefit from the prison.

“We want to make sure we are providing information to any of our businesses so that they can be on the [prison’s] approved contractor list,” Pannier said. “The bureau will only do business with those on the approved list. There’s a little process to get on that list.”

One of the community’s concerns is housing availability, Pannier said. Officials expect many prison employees to rent at first. So the ad hoc group wants to alert landlords to fix up their properties to be ready for prison employees.

Bob Vaughn, a local businessman who owns Donnybrook Bakery & Cafe, said Morrison doesn’t have a lot of rental space and new homes.

“Employees at federal prisons like to live 15 to 25 minutes away from their facilities,” Vaughn said. “That puts Morrison right in the zone. I would think that Morrison is positioned pretty well to at least get a look from those who want to move into the area.”

He praised City Hall for looking ahead.

“I’m really proud of what they are doing,” Vaughn said. “There’s a little bit of an uptick, more of a sense of optimism.”

The Bureau of Prisons says it will open the prison once Congress approves its spending plan.

More than a dozen years ago, the state built the 1,600-cell maximum-security prison in Thomson, but couldn’t afford to run it.

The federal government bought it in 2012. Its economic impact of the Carroll County prison is expected to extend into Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties.

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