GEO now hiring

With no contract in place, GEO is seeking 73 people to fill positions for Baldwin prison at job fair Wednesday

WEBBER TWP. — Despite the absence of a client to enter into a contract to once again house inmates, the GEO Group will hold a job fair at its Baldwin prison facility on Wednesday to “recruit potential candidates.” A flier posted on the Michigan Works! West Central Facebook page states the fair will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the North Lake Correctional Facility, located at 1805 W. 32nd St. in Baldwin. “While they are not actively hiring at this time, nor have they secured a client for the NLCF, they are looking to recruit potential candidates!” the flier announces. Instead of using the fair to conduct interviews or accept applications, it will allow those interested in possible employment opportunities to get acquainted with the facility and potential employer, said Michelle Rasmussen, business services director at Michigan Works! West Central. “The main thing to remember about the job fair is they are going to be discussing the potential opportunities that will be available there,” Rasmussen said. “They will be discussing what it’s like to work at the GEO Group, what it is like to work for that company.” As of Monday evening, 73 positions were posted on the for-profit GEO Group’s employment website, The posted positions include corrections officer positions, cook, librarian, counselors, chaplain, dentist and more. Those interested in the positions are asked to visit the company’s website to apply. Each position, however, is posted with a disclaimer that reads: “In anticipation of a contract award, GEO is inviting applicants to apply to this opportunity ahead of time. This is a potential opportunity and an award has not yet been granted.” On Dec. 31, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 599, which amends the Corrections Code of 1953, making it possible for the North Lake Correctional Facility to house adult inmates again. The law allows the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to contract with the operator of the privately-owned correctional facility to house and manage Michigan prisoners, as well as detainees over the age of 19. As a former youth correctional facility, the Baldwin facility could only house juveniles from 1999 to 2005 by law. The law includes a requirement that a private-contractor facility must provide written certification and a yearly report to the MDOC demonstrating at least a 10 percent annual savings over the cost of running a state prison. Up until July, the MDOC sought competitive bids for operations and service to house already incarcerated Michigan prisoners. GEO and another group submitted bids to the state, said Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo If GEO is awarded the contract, it also will be required to interview and consider former MDOC employees to work at the prison and give consideration to the hiring of unemployed National Guard or reserve officers and military personnel who are returning to the state following active deployment. If MDOC doesn’t enter a contract for the Baldwin facility, GEO is still permitted to open it to inmates from other states. “Bids are getting looked at right now at the state level,” Bumstead said. “Once we get back into session full-time — which is this week (today) — I could start looking in seeing where that is at.” Regardless of working “quite closely” with GEO to reopen the facility, Bumstead said he was aware of plans to hold a job fair but did not know it would be Wednesday. Recently, Bumstead, GEO representatives and other state and local elected officials met in Baldwin to discuss where GEO is at in the bid process. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based company likely did so to reassure local elected officials it still was actively trying to reopen the facility, Bumstead said. The announcement of the job fair is another reassurance, he added. “I think its good news,” Bumstead said. “No. 1, they probably want to see what is out there — as far as a workforce anyway — that’s qualified for the jobs before they have to look elsewhere out of the area for those folks. It’s probably good to do that on their part also.” GEO did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. Although Bumstead seemed less surprised by the job fair’s announcement, several Lake County officials hadn’t heard of the announcement until they were contacted by the Pioneer on Monday. Michigan Works! West Central was asked by GEO to facilitate the job fair on Friday, Rasmussen said. Lake County Chamber of Commerce President Rick Delamater said he was unaware of the job fair, but was excited to hear it would take place. Although he doesn’t believe a majority of the potential jobs would be filled by Lake County residents, other businesses — like restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores — would benefit from the facility being reopened, he said. Even if the facility only created 20 jobs for Lake County residents, it would still be beneficial, he added. Rasmussen echoed Delamater by saying the facility reopening would have a “huge economic boom for Lake County” and the surrounding counties. Although the facility has an uneasy past with Lake County residents — it was closed in 2005, then reopened briefly to house prisoners from California, and has been mostly empty since October 2011 — Delamater is encouraged by the job fair. “I would rather have them (hold a job fair) in preparation (of opening) then all of sudden get the nod from the state or get a contract and not be prepared,” Delamater said. “It’s smart business on their end of it to go ahead and start leaning that way.” Also unaware of the upcoming job fair, Shelly Myers, Lake County clerk and CFO, isn’t excited by the possibility of the facility reopening just yet. She would like to see it reopen, but she compares GEO’s history in Lake County to promising a child a birthday party and then canceling it two weeks prior. “It was hard to have an open mind (at the recent meeting) because we have been kicked down so much,” Myers said. “It was hard to sit there with the (state elected officials) and all of the people who are supposed to be in the know and be positive.” If the prison reopens, it would not have a significant impact on county finances, Myers said. GEO has been paying taxes on the facility, but is seeking a tax appeal for 2011, 2012 and 2013. The case currently is in the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Because of the pending litigation, Myers and Tony Gagliardo, Webber Township supervisor — where the facility is located — would not disclose figures related to the case. However, it looks as though the tribunal will not rule in the county’s favor, Myers said. Any party who has received tax revenue from GEO has set aside funds to repay whatever amount the tribunal may order, Myers added. Like Myers, Gagliardo was not notified of the job fair and wasn’t overly optimistic about the prospects of the facility reopening. The facility represents approximately 60 percent of the township’s tax base, and the township also invested in a water and sewer system to accommodate the facility. With the facility closed, and approximately only a dozen residents using the system, the township has lost close to $1 million on the system since 2005, he said. Pending the tax tribunal’s decision and what affect it could have on the township’s revenue, having the facility reopen wouldn’t change much in Webber Township, Gagliardo said. Although he hopes some of his constituents could benefit from the potential job opportunities. “Of course we want (the facility) to come back, but it is going to take a little more than a job fair to give me hope,” Gagliardo said. “(The fair) is encouraging.” Bumstead admits that government procedures don’t always move quickly, “especially when it come to jobs in Lake County.” He does believe, however, that the job fair is a meaningful sign that GEO is serious about reopening the facility. He also wants to make sure that if it’s reopened, it stays open. “(The process) is getting work done, just be patient,” Bumstead said. “It’s been a long, drawn-out process. We want to make sure that it is done right this time. (We want to) make sure there’s not somebody there for three or four months and then you got to yank them out of there again.” For more information on Wednesday’s job fair, contact Michigan Works! West Central in Big Rapids at (231) 796-0049.