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Prison contract education to ramp up in coming months


March 31, 2010
BERLIN — Efforts to educate local businesses interested in getting contracts with the federal prison will ramp up in June, according to the team working to maximize the impact of the prison on the local economy.

"Get a piece of $20 million," could serve as the tag line for the effort, Androscoggin Valley Economic Development Director Max Makaitis suggested at the meeting on Thursday at White Mountain Community College, in order to get people interested in doing business with the prison.

Representatives from the federal Bureau of Prisons will be up for a week in June to hold workshops and meet with people to answer questions about how the prison buys supplies.

The week is only part of the effort to try to keep the benefits of locating the prison in the local community.

Representatives from state agencies, the city of Berlin, WMCC, Senator Shaheen's office and local agencies met to discuss what they can do to keep people informed and increase the local impact of the federal prison facility.

This was the second meeting of what organizers are calling the "talent team," which is working to increase the community benefits for the North Country. The effort is modeled on similar teams that worked on the launch of federal prisons in West Virginia and improved the impact on the local community.

The paperwork to register with the government to sell goods to the federal prison takes time, members of the group said, but the payoffs for local businesses would be significant.

In order to realize the benefits, however, businesses need to be made aware of the steps required to take advantage of the new potential customer, and they need to have started taking those steps before June.

The opportunity to talk directly with federal prison officials will hopefully give businesses the chance to clear up any lingering questions about selling to the prison.

"I think we've got some real opportunity here to be incredibly prepared," said WMCC president Kathy Eneguess.

John Dyer, of WMCC, said he is working on developing the infrastructure for training programs that will hopefully improve the number of local applicants eligible for federal prison jobs, as well as courses for businesses looking to supply products to the prison.

"We'd like to do a number of workshops around the region," he said. "We'd like to hit Berlin first."

Workshops will also be held in Colebrook, Littleton and Conway, he said, but details remains to be finalized.

"In Berlin we're going to step it up a notch," said Mark Belanger of New Hampshire Employment Security. Other communities will be hearing about the facility for the first time, he said, but Berlin residents and businesses will be familiar with the BOP's basic needs. The next round of information going around Berlin will go into more depth, he said, to give local residents and businesses as much information as possible.

These efforts will include counseling on how people can get their financial histories in order, Mr. Dyer said, so they will be eligible for the federal prison jobs.

"We realize we're not going to meet the full recruitment needs of the Bureau of Prisons," Mr. Belanger said, but the more the local community can do the better it will be able to maximize returns from the facility.

The prison is scheduled to open sometime near the end of the year, although it won't house inmates until several months afterward. It can't open until the federal budget is passed and a warden for the facility is hired.

Cathi Litcher, activation coordinator for the BOP, said lots of people are interested in the warden position in Berlin, because they want to be in northern New Hampshire.

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