I don't completely understand the local opposition to the prison hospital project for Stockton.
We have local leaders sending public money to entertainment venues, and then oppose a high-wage export industry (supplying health care to the state prison system). They want the public to subsidize higher-class entertainment, but are opposed to a higher paying job that might attract their doctor away. This is a very harsh statement towards some community leaders that I generally like and support, but I have to wonder about their motives here. Are they thinking about making Stockton a better place for everyone or just themselves?
We are in a cyclical construction depression that is going to last for a few more years until homebuilding picks up. This is a $1 billion construction project slated for 2010-2012. It's huge and perfectly timed. Once it opens, it will bring 2,500-3,000 jobs that pay much higher than the average wage in the region, and an annual payroll of nearly $300 million per year.
The concerns of the local chamber of commerce and some elected officials are that the prison hospital will attract health care workers from local hospitals, and exacerbate a shortage of doctors and health care workers in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition, there are concerns that the inmate population would attract families needing social services to the area.
Those concerns are valid, but I think they are small compared to the benefits, and we have several years to plan and address them. In this recession, there are thousands of people training for healthcare jobs right now because "experts" like me keep telling them that is where the future jobs are. With housing prices down and California amenities, we can attract that workforce to Stockton with jobs.
Stockton has thrown public money at restaurants, entertainment and minor league sports; enterprises that look nice but mostly create low wage jobs (or at worse, just move them around town shifting local entertainment spending from one neighborhood to another). We need to do more to create the income and employment base that demands those amenities, and to create a critical mass of higher education, higher income citizens that will make it easier to attract better jobs.
If we don't have the skilled workforce for the hospital now, then let's train them or recruit high education, high income folks to move here. Those who are only interested in low skills jobs shouldn't worry. The hospital will create plenty of burger flipper, janitorial, and laundry jobs too.
Update (10/30): I should add that I do understand why local leaders are upset that the only facilities the state seems to place in Stockton/San Joaquin County are prisons. For example, Stockton is the largest metropolitan area in California without a state university (and is probably the largest metro area in the U.S. without a public college or university, someone should check this). If the state had invested appropriately in education in the area, the skilled labor stress of this hospital on the region would be of little concern.