What would the area do to obtain 600 well-paying jobs in what could be termed a recession-proof industry?
It's not a rhetorical question. Those jobs could happen. But it's important that our local and state leaders don't drop the ball.
The industry is the state Department of Corrections, which already has a sizeable presence in central Pennsylvania with facilities at Huntingdon, Smithfield, Rockview, Houtzdale and Cresson employing thousands of area residents.
There is a chance for that to grow. State officials have cited the need to construct more prisons to handle the burgeoning inmate population.
At one point, it seemed like Huntingdon was almost a lock to get one of the state's new correctional institutions. Rockview also was favored for a second prison.
While the area remains in the running, a recent announcement is a bit troubling.
The Rendell administration said last month that the state will build a new $200 million prison in Fayette County at a site to be determined.
It appears the decision was made to boost embattled state House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, who represents part of Fayette County. DeWeese has been under fire after 12 people associated with the House Democratic Caucus were indicted on corruption charges. DeWeese, head of the caucus, was not indicted. Still, some of his colleagues are calling for him to step aside.
Our concern is what impact the state's decision to build in Fayette County will have on our chances of getting another prison in Huntingdon.
It would seem that Huntingdon would be a logical choice. A new $200 million prison could be built on land already owned by the Department of Corrections and could share the resources with the current Huntingdon and Smithfield state correctional institutions.
But are we doing enough to persuade state officials to look at Huntingdon and the central Pennsylvania area? Fayette County officials reportedly met twice this year with the state corrections secretary. The new prison is expected to employ 600 and create about 600 spin-off jobs. That would be a nice economic boost.
The Department of Corrections told the Tribune-Review that the starting salary for a corrections office was $29,815, with a 3 percent increase under a new contract that takes effect this year. The average salary of corrections officers from trainees through majors is $59,317.
Those are family-sustaining wages that are comparable to manufacturing positions, which often are considered the top rung in economic development.
And the more jobs any community has with salaries like those, especially when they aren't subject to the whims of the economy, the better and more stable the area is. Let's get them here.
The Associated Press says the state is looking at Armstrong, Centre, Huntingdon, Philadelphia, Luzerne and Northumberland counties as potential sites for a second new prison.
Given the competition, our state and local officials should leave nothing to chance and do everything possible to persuade the state to locate a new prison in central Pennsylvania.
We don't want to see those needed jobs slip through our fingers.