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Southwestern action councils moving towards merger

WILLMAR — Three Community Action Agencies serving low income persons in 13 southwestern Minnesota counties are moving ahead with intentions of merging.

The boards for Heartland Community Action Agency, based in Willmar; Southern Minnesota Opportunity Council, based in Worthington; and Western Community Action Partnership, based in Marshall, unanimously approved resolutions recently committing to a good faith effort towards a merger.

Prairie Five CAC, based in Montevideo, opted out of the merger process.

Board representatives and staff with the three agencies will meet this coming week to begin the next steps towards creating one entity. It is estimated that the process will take six to nine months, according to Joan Macik, executive director of Heartland CAC.

Prairie Five Executive Director Deb Larson said board members were not 100 percent convinced that a merger was in the best interest of the agency or its clients at this time. Prairie Five remains committed to working in collaboration with the other agencies in providing services.

It is also not closing the door entirely on the possibility of merging with the other agencies at a later date, if they remain open to it, she said.

The four, non-profit agencies had been exploring the possibility of merging for more than two years. MAP for Nonprofits of St. Paul, which provides consulting and training, had completed an analysis that recommended the four entities merge. Grant funds are making it possible for MAP for Nonprofits to assist the agencies as they develop a new, single organization.

The three agencies provide a variety of services to low income persons, ranging from Head Start to energy assistance and weatherization programs.

The new entity should be more competitive in obtaining state and federal funding since it will be serving a larger population base, said Macik.

It’s also expected that a single, larger entity would be more efficient, and could offer a greater range of services.

Macik said a new, single entity will be able to reduce administrative costs. It will not require three executive directors, for example.

While some administrative jobs will likely be eliminated, the new agency is expected to retain all of its field staff and offices.

Some of the most difficult work is ahead, said Macik, as the agencies look at how they can best combine staffing operations and build the new entity.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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