Carbon County was recently named the recipient of a $1 million federal grant, which will be used to establish the Packerton Yards Business Park.
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced that Carbon will receive the $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant for use at the former Packerton Yards site, located in Mahoning Township and Lehighton.
The project, county commissioners have said in the past, will create up to 350 jobs.
"A strong manufacturing sector is critical to our nation's economic competitiveness," Locke said. "This EDA grant will establish a business park that will cater to service and manufacturing businesses. This will speed up innovation and encourage entrepreneurship to make the region more competitive."
Carbon County applied for this grant in October 2009.
At that time, the board had secured more than $4 million for the project. This grant now brings the total funds secured to over $5 million, enough to cover the costs for the industrialization at the site, which includes highway improvements, a railroad crossing, a morphological and environmental study, and making the six available sites shovel-ready for business to move in and build.
Carbon is now waiting to receive all necessary permits for the project and expects to begin construction at the site by the end of the year.
Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, said he was happy by the news because this grant was one of the final pieces needed to guarantee that the project could move forward.
"The grant will be utilized to make the yards 'shovel-ready' for development. The great thing about Packerton is that it has easily-accessible utilities within proximity to the lots namely water, sewer, gas, electric, cable and railroad," O'Gurek said.
"While this is a public project to reclaim and put to good use a once abandoned rail yard, we anticipate it will trigger private investment that will generate many jobs in the area and, at full build-out, will play a major role in helping to revitalize the economic climate of Carbon County in the future."
O'Gurek recognized Congressman Paul Kanjorski, as well as Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter for their efforts in securing the EDA grant. All three legislators visited the county at one point to discuss the commissioners' plans for industrializing the 59-acre site.
"I want to thank Kanjorski for his unyielding efforts in working toward the county securing this funding," he said. "Initially, he obtained $150,000 for the project, so this grant brings the amount of federal money Kanjorski has been able to obtain for the project to $1.15 million.
"At the same time, I want to thank Sens. Casey and Specter for their support of the EDA grant application. Without our lawmakers' support, this funding never comes through," he added, noting that state Rep. Keith McCall, Sen. Ray Musto, and Gov. Ed Rendell have also been vital participants in securing the funds necessary for the project.
O'Gurek also praised the efforts of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance (NEPA), the seven-county local development district that prioritizes area projects annually and recommends funding.
In 2008, Carbon County officials applied for the 2009 EDA grant, but missed the mark slightly when the NEPA ranked the project number four on the list. The top three projects received funding.
The county then reapplied for the 2010 funding last year and was ranked number one in projects.
During the preparation of the EDA application, O'Gurek said the commissioners utilized the expertise of Carbon County's economic development director Dawn Ferrante, to gather all the materials necessary for the application.
"Dawn put many hours of hard work and diligence into the grant process, as did our engineer, Ronald Tirpak, consultants and attorneys," O'Gurek said. "This was a total team effort that had a very favorable result. I'd like to thank everyone who played a role in the process because it was a long and difficult one."
The industrialization of the former Packerton Yards site has been in the works since 2002, when Commissioners Charles Getz and O'Gurek included the project as part of their campaign.
On Feb. 25, 2005, the county purchased the site from Joseph and Betty Zaprazny at a cost of $350,000.
Since then, the board has worked with state and federal officials to complete all tasks, studies and permit applications that must be done before construction on the site could begin.