As yet there are no stockpiles of bricks and cement on the site of the state's new satellite prison to herald the start of construction, but people's private stockpiles of hope and expectancy have never been so high.
The first phase of the $35 million prison won't be finished until 1990. Crews didn't begin preparing the ground until May.But already people are driving into Gunnison from outlying towns to take classes they hope will help them get work at the prison. They come from Sanpete, Sevier and Millard counties, with dreams of work carrying them over those barren stretches of road. Some drive 60 miles to attend class.
Others don't want to wait until prison staff is hired in early 1990. They need the work now. Local laborers have been showing up at the construction site early in the morning, hoping for a job. Diane Christiansen's husband has gone down there 11 times looking for work, she said.
"Some of those guys are so eager for work they go down there every morning until they get hired," she said.
The tenacity reflects desperation.
The economy has never been kind to Sanpete County. There are no "glory days" to reminisce about. Fate withheld Sanpete's measure of glory. Statistics from the State Office of Economic Development show that Sanpete's unemployment rate has been in double digits for 30 years. It may have been that high since colonization, but the statistics only go back 30 years.
Those who do work still struggle. Va-lene King always thought she and husband Bruce would make an ample living after Bruce finished veterinary school. After all, veterinarians make good money - except in Sanpete County. Farmers often give King hay in trade for services. "Our accounts receivable are ridiculous. There are lots and lots of dollars that are overdue," Valene said.
She works to help out. This summer, she started taking a series of criminal justice classes in hopes of getting a job at the prison.
"I'm working two part-time jobs with
no benefits," she said. "I figured one full-time job with benefits would be great."
The first phase of the prison will bring 250 jobs. State officials say 70 percent of those jobs will go to local people. As phases two and three are completed during the next decade, 400 more people will be hired.
The construction is already bringing jobs into town. By next spring, nearly 400 people are expected to be working at the construction site.
By the time the third phase of the prison is completed, well into the 1990s, over 2,100 inmates are to be housed in Gunnison.
Bruce Teuscher also signed up for the night class that will help people get jobs at the prison. Teuscher used to teach Spanish at the high schools in Gunnison and Manti.
"They decided to take Spanish out next year and bring French in, so I was out of a job," he said.
Teuscher took a part-time job at a grocery store in town last month. He helps stock the shelves, run the cash register and take groceries out to cars. Last week, he took a second part-time job as a car salesman at a new car dealership.
"They just opened the dealership." he said. "They anticipated that the prison would bring people in here to buy cars."
Teuscher is doing some anticipating of his own. He hopes the prison will be the financial salvation he badly needs right now.
"I figured, since I had a bachelor's degree, I could qualify for some job up there."
The town is anxious to be ready when prosperity comes calling. Several other new businesses have joined the car dealership on Gunnison's Main Street.
"Someone bought Doug Peterson's old shop and made a minimall out of it," Teuscher said. "They have a pizza shop, a video store, a fitness place, a diet center and a photography place."
The space in the mall was rented out with surprising speed. Most significantly, the spaces were rented by businesses that only flourish in strong economies. Pizzas, videos, portraits _ those are things people do without when times are hard.
But when there's a little extra money, people sign up for gyms, enroll in commercial diet programs, order pizzas and take a fistful of videos home for the weekend.
Clearly, Gunnison's businessmen believe happy days are here.
The anticipation of the prison has reopened a grocery store, reopened the rollerskating rink and brought in a new clothing store and a restaurant, said Steve Buchanan, a member of the Gunnison City Council.
"Look what's happening here just on the strength of rumors!" he said.
The local hospital, long plagued by fiscal woes, is talking about building a new wing, and there is speculation about a new school.
As evidence of just how high hopes can soar, someone has even opened a boat dealership in town.
But it is Southland Corporation that bestowed the ultimate gift. Two months ago, it bought land for the valley's first 7-Eleven store. "I've heard they are going to build it across the street from the Dairy Queen," King said. The excitement still hasn't died down.
Town officials believe the prison's operating budget will pump nearly $12 million into the local economy. About $7 million of that will be in salaries to people living in the area.
Outlying towns are already talking about where they'll put the new subdivisions. Salina people are quick to point out that folks may not mind working in a prison town, but no one wants to live in one. They are hoping that people who move into the area to take jobs in Gunnison will shop for homes somewhere else. Salina _ 12 miles south of Gunnison _ sees itself as a perfect choice.
"Salina and Manti are the logical choices," said Kevin Ashby, publisher of the Salina Sun and Gunnison Valley News. "Salina will get its fair share of people."
It needs them. The town's unemployment rate rose to 17 percent two years ago and has stayed there, Ashby said.
City councils in several tiny towns are reviewing decisions made years ago about water and sewer lines and chiding themselves for not buying bigger systems that could service some of the phantom subdivisions everyone is sketching out.
Every business and town in the valley is positioning itself for the best shot at the biggest piece of economic pie. The prison that the Wasatch Front shunned and other parts of the state feared may bring _ at last _ Sanpete's glory days.