(08/08/2002)
Charleston Daily Mail

Prison Will Lift Gilmer

Bob Kelly
Political Editor
Wednesday August 7

Gilmer County typifies the dormant rural West Virginia economy, but it's about to get an adrenaline jolt.

The county has only 5,970 people over the age of 16, of whom 2,470 work. That includes 1,748 in the private sector and 722 who toil for some aspect of government, mostly Glenville State College or the public school system.

In 1999, 21.5 percent of the 2,780 households in the county had incomes of less than $10,000 and 27 percent of the families with children below the age of 18 had incomes below the poverty level.

Median household income now stands at $22,857, but will be considerably higher the next time it's computed.

That's because a $100 million medium-security federal prison will open this fall near Glenville.

Bogus help-wanted posters on utility poles throughout central West Virginia now tease the jobless with the prospect of sales work from home for $20 an hour.

The Federal Correctional Institution-Gilmer isn't a come-on.

Warden Bryan Bledsoe listed just a few of the fabulous opportunities that a profligate Uncle Sam has made possible:

A cook could earn $21 an hour.

Top salary for a teacher will be $45,000.

Secretaries with a GS-6 classification will earn $32,000.

Entry-level, GS-5 correction officers will gross $30,466.

But there's a catch. Those 37 and older need not apply.

The mandatory retirement age for federal law enforcement personnel is 57. An employee can retire at any age with 25 years experience or at age 50 with 20 years.

Working out of temporary quarters at the college, Bledsoe has hired about 80 staffers so far, many of them experienced Bureau of Prison hands who are returning home to West Virginia.

Bledsoe is in the process of hiring 265 more, but there's no point in driving to Glenville to put in an application. There aren't any.

Would-be employees must apply via computer.

"It's an Internet world now," Bledsoe said.

Perhaps, but instead of surfing, in much of rural West Virginia they're still just sticking their toes in the water.

This has caused no small amount of consternation in Glenville, where job- seekers are urged to check the site daily for new postings.

"The application process strikes me as odd," said Susan Atkinson, head librarian at the Gilmer Public Library. "It is not an easy site to get into, and people are having an extremely hard time figuring out how to apply once they get there."

Start at www.usajobs.opm.gov/ and just stumble around. Look for the Bureau of Prisons. Clue: It's past the CIA, the Defense Logistics Agency, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center and the Illinois and Michigan Canal Heritage Commission.

It isn't an easy path for a country boy or anyone else to follow, but if he succeeded Tuesday, he would have found a new listing for "Food Service Assistant." Pay range is $30,466 to $43,859.

Happy days are here again.


Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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