Members of the Carbon Schuylkill Industrial Development Corporation learned recently about economic development in Carbon County.

During the group's quarterly meeting on Thursday, special guest speaker Dawn Ferrante, director of the Carbon County Economic Development office and executive director of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation, spoke about the economic development in the county; the ways she hopes to improve entrepreneurship and industrial development; the current Packerton Yards Industrial Park project; and the consolidation of the economic development agencies within Carbon.

Ferrante said that she believes that to succeed in developing a strong economic development strategy, an organization needs ask certain questions, including is the project going to be cost effective, does it utilize existing assets, doe it support the goal for economic development and has it been successful so far?

She referenced Packerton Yards as the example for economic development because it is county-sponsored.

Currently, the $5 million project is fully funded; has received permission to make the private railroad crossing public; and is waiting approval from area entities.

Ferrante said that there is the possibility of having not only industrial development on the 59-acre site, noting that a portion of the land located in Lehighton is zoned commercial. In that part, she said discussions have taken place about the potential of developing that land into conference space, a campus for an entrepreneurial coaching campus, exercise and recreation area, and more.

"The key is that you got to put your bet on a lot of numbers and more than one color," she said, noting that utilizing both commercial and industrial aspects would provide potential businesses with more opportunities at the site.

She added that bringing jobs into the area would help Carbon County's economy because it would keep residents employed within the county rather than being forced to commute to out of the area for employment.

Ferrante briefly spoke about a program she wants to institute in the county to help entrepreneurs build better strategies.

The program, called the Entrepreneurial League System, is currently operating in Louisiana and works to help entrepreneurs reach the next level through peer groups, one-on-one groups, and mentor groups.

In the three years that the program has been operational, 111 entrepreneurs helped create 284 new jobs; increased the sales revenue by 41 percent or $37 million; and generated $21 million for its region.

Ferrante is currently applying for a federal grant that would cover the cost of a study to determine the impact that this program would have on the county.

Ferrante also discussed a consolidation plan of economic development entities within the county.

She noted that DCED now requires that economic development needs to be reorganized as a non-government entity.

To complete this requirement while creating a strong economic development corporation by her Jan. 1, 2011 target date, she would like to create a partnership between the county and other area organizations, like the CSIDC.

Ferrante said that currently the Palmerton Area Communities' Endeavor and the Lehighton EDC have agreed to the consolidation.

"The concept is to create a board with people who want to be involved in economic development," she said.

The directors of the CSIDC discussed the option and asked if they could enter into a partnership rather than consolidating.

Ferrante said partnering is an option.

"We need to come at this in all directions and lay the groundwork for future development," she said. "There is no one-size-fits all approach to economic development. Rather, it is a long-term proposition that must be seen and supported that way."

The CSIDC is one of the oldest industrial groups in the state.

Since its inception in 1957, the group has started the Panther Valley Industrial Park in Lansford; helped bring industrial companies like Silberline Manufacturing Company, the Shoe Factory, Majestic Lamp (now known as Elk Lighting), Hill's Machine Shop, and Ametek into the region; began the Green Acres Industrial Park in the Hauto Valley of Nesquehoning; and worked with the Tamaqua Industrial Group to bring Bundy Tubing Company into Hometown.

The CSIDC then became a driving force financially to organizations who promote tourism and historical preservation in the area. It donated funds to the No. 9 Mine and Museum in Lansford and the Carbon-Schuylkill Auto Tour, and provided the money needed for matching grants to the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor.