Big changes are coming to the economic development groups in Carbon County.

Beginning in May, a newly-formed group that deals with businesses and economic growth within the county will begin official operations.

Dawn Ferrante, executive director of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation, explained that the privatization of the Carbon County Economic Development Office has been in the works for four years and is finally coming to fruition.

In 2009, the county received notice from the state Department of Community and Economic Development that the county cannot be the organization that finds available lending sources for area businesses.

Under the requirements, the organization that does the lending funds must be a non-government entity, be a member-based organization with at least 30 members, and complete annual trainings for credits.

Ferrante said that this put the county in the position of not being able to help businesses because it couldn't lend state funds that were available because it didn't meet the above requirements.

"Any money from the state that is a loan would not be accessible to us," she noted. "So they started the conversation about privatizing the economic development office."

To meet the requirements and become an asset for area businesses needing financial help with economic development projects, the economic development office, which Ferrante heads, will be privatized into the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation; combined with the Carbon County Industrial Development Authority, which will be dissolved; and merged with the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce.

"It's been a four-year process in trying to get us basically to become one unified organization," Ferrante said, noting that the CCEDC has been around since 1984 but never had any staff paid through the corporation.

The privatization of the economic development office into the corporation now allows the corporation to be staffed, and will be partially funded through a grant given annually by the county.

Ferrante continued that after looking at the new budget for the corporation, which includes overhead costs, training fees and moving the operation into a private facility, it was determined that the board needed to look at partnering with another group in the area.

Over the last 18 months, Ferrante and the board looked into options and began discussions with the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce.

"It makes sense to bring these two groups together because they do the same things," Ferrante said, noting that the corporation handles financial support for businesses while the chamber supports these businesses. "It just made sense to go in this direction."

Ferrante, who also chairs the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, explained that the chamber was in the process of restructuring because its current dues sharing system was no longer working between the local chambers and councils that comprised the county chamber due to rising costs.

To find the solution to keep the chamber as a source for county businesses, Ferrante proposed to the local chambers and councils, the end to the dues sharing system; as well as either continue as part of the Carbon County Chamber or go another direction. Jim Thorpe's chamber has already decided to pursue another avenue and will focus on tourism within the borough.

All other chambers and councils are currently making a final determination on their type of participation in the future of the organization; however, if the recent vote from the groups on the merger is any indication, members overwhelmingly approve of the idea of working together, Ferrante said, noting that over 142 members have voted in favor of the merger so far.

The new board of the new corporation will be comprised of five members of the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, five members of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation, and five members of the soon-to-be dissolved Carbon County Industrial Development Authority.

The name of the newly-formed group will be chosen during the new board's first official meeting in May. It will be located at 137 South St., Lehighton.