Some 400 people, dressed in everything from cowboy hats and denims to expensive suits, watched Gov. Norm Bangerter perform "mechanized groundbreaking" Tuesday for a regional state prison in Gunnison.

After heaping praise on residents of Sanpete, Sevier and Juab counties for their "great contributions to the state" the governor donned a hard hat, climbed into the seat of backhoe and scooped out a huge bucket of dirt, preparatory to excavating the prison site by the contractor.In a five-minute address, the governor said the work of the first phase of construction will lay the ground work for two other phases so that the later will be less expensive.

He praised the Department of Corrections "for a lean and mean operation."

The governor said the department operates on a ratio of one employee to 4.3 inmates, while nationally the figure is one to 2.5. He added that the state's cost at the prison is $10,600 per inmate bed, while nationally it ranges between $15,000 and $25,000.

The day's events were not without humor. Bangerter brought a laugh to the audience when he joked, "Some people wanted the prison in this community so their kids could stay home."

Neal Stowe, director of finance, construction and maintenance, added to the humor when speaking about the economic benefits of the prison to the community, he said, "In this particular case, crime really does pay." In a serious vein, he added, "We are sensitive to your environment and want to be a good neighbor."

It was ironic that as the people exhibited enthusiasm about the economic benefits the prison will bring, Rep. Ray Nielson, D-Fairview, reported that Sanpete has the highest unemployment in the state, nearly three times the state average.

He added, "This is a minor miracle that has happened."

Gunnison Mayor Bruce Blackham centered his remarks around sincerity, dedication and love, bringing the day's only standing ovation.

He told citizens they must "learn to love in a way we have never loved before," predicting the people will become stronger because of the challenges. "We will be called a prison town, but we will be the best darn prison town around," Blackham promised.

"A lot of responsibile people brought the prison to this point," said Rep. Cary Peterson, R-Nephi. Praising the people of the various towns and counties for their efforts and cooperation, Dr. Wendell Mcgarry, Sanpete County Commission chairman, said, "We found out that if we worked together, anything is possible."

Gary DeLand, executive director, Utah Department of Corrections, said Sanpete County was the best organized of any county in its presentation of prison site selection. "It was aggressive and well planned, and the people's spirit will be important to us in doing our job."