What happens at the Rock Island Arsenal impacts each of the Quad Cities, both states, and the area's economy. It's the largest employer in the Quad Cities... in wartime and in peacetime.
This week, several items up for vote in Congress can ensure the Rock Island Arsenal stays that way. The items are part of the more than $1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill that passed the U.S. House on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 and is up for a vote in the U.S. Senate on Friday, January 17th, 2014.
Three provisions impact the Rock Island Arsenal:
- The first would maintain a minimum workload;
- The second would ensure that the Rock Island Arsenal is competitive as it bids on additional workload through its partnerships in the private sector;
"In other words, in order to keep the Rock Island [Arsenal] functioning when the Federal Government doesn't have to make things for war, to make those available to the private sector to keep the employment up, but more importantly to keep the Island operating as a backstop when unexpected things happen, when we have to crank up for war," Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014.
"It directs our military to look at our Arsenals first and the talents that’s there, the money that can be saved and give them a chance to prove now - as they have over generations - that they can help to make America safer, creating good paying jobs right there at the Rock Island Arsenal," Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said on Tuesday, January 14th, 2014. "This provision in the omnibus bill is an important one that Congresswoman [Cheri] Bustos and I worked on. It’s been supported on a bi-partisan basis. It’ll lead to good paying jobs staying at the Arsenal and a growth in jobs over time as they continue to prove their worth."
East Moline Mayor John Thodos, who runs the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group, says the provisions should have been approved years ago and will "even the playing field" by giving Arsenals the same benefits that Depots have had for decades.
"So we can maintain our critical skill sets at the Island and make sure that when they're called to action, they're basically our 911 for the military," he told News 8's Angie Sharp on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014. "We need to make sure they are kept warm. We're not asking for a bunch of money just to be thrown there. We're asking for work and that's what keeps their skill sets going and then when they're called to action, then we've got them."
- The third would give wage-grade federal workers the same raise salaried employees received after the government shutdown.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois) said on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 that the provision could impact nearly 800 people on the Rock Island Arsenal.
“The hardworking wage-grade employees at the Rock Island Arsenal help manufacture equipment that arms and protects our troops and deserve treatment equal to other federal employees,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos.
"The men and women who work there are some of the best technicians in the area," added Sen. Durbin.
The spending bill also includes a step forward for the Thomson Prison, located north of the Quad Cities.
"The situation is is there's not specficially money in the bill for Thomson, but it is clear that Thomson can't be used for Guantanamo prisoners and that's very essential to get some money," said Sen. Grassley.
"Signed by the President, it means construction will start in a matter of months - at most a year or so," said Sen. Durbin. "We're going to see this new construction leading to the hiring of hundreds of people in the area."
As reported by WQAD in September 2013, the two-year activation plan for the Thomson Prison includes 300 jobs created in the first year and 1,100 jobs total by the end of the second year.
Lawmakers expect the annual economic impact of Thomson Prison to be around $200 million for the town of Thomson and surrounding communities.