When a new $223 million maximum security federal prison was recently completed in Caûon City, Colo., people began to call the central Colorado community the "Alcatraz of the Rockies."
But prisons are nothing new for
Fremont County: it first hosted a prison in 1871, before Colorado
was a state, and it hasn't looked back since.
Today, nine state prisons and four federal
prisons provide the economic backbone of the county, says Steve
Madone, executive director of the Fremont County Economic
Corporation, a private nonprofit group. One-half of the county
payroll comes from public-sector jobs related to the prisons, he
But Madone, who left the county at age 17
only to return last year at age 45, says the county's reliance on
prisons hasn't deterred other businesses from settling in the
mountain-ringed valley, and it hasn't destroyed the county's
"We still have clean air, and
we're still a good place for families," says Madone. "The prisons
have been good for us."
The county unemployment
rate is now at just 2.9 percent and the median income has grown to
$30,400. The county's population also jumped from 32,000 in 1990 to
38,000 in 1994. Of that population, 6,200 are state and federal
prisoners. The only drawback, says Madone, is that most of the jobs
available at the prisons are entry-level. Supervisors are
transferred in from elsewhere.
Madone says that
although Fremont County would consider additional prisons, it is
making a push to diversify its economy. His group has encouraged
the county to offer sweet deals - including free land and tax
breaks - to new businesses considering a move to Fremont County.
The strategy seems to have worked. Within the
last 10 months, six new companies bringing 130 jobs have come to
the airport industrial park, he says, including an electronics
manufacturer from San Jose, Calif.
in Fremont County welcomes the prisons. River-rafting companies
using the Arkansas River have long complained that every time a big
storm hits, sewage ponds from the prisons overflow and pollute the
B.J. Plaskitt, a reporter with the
Longmont Times-Call who has covered the prisons in the past, says
real estate values are depressed in a five-block section of
Caûon City where the families of inmates
But overall, Caûon City has a low
crime rate, Plaskitt says, and entry-level prison officers - many
with limited educations - earn as much as a teacher.