In an effort to increase services within the 50-mile radius served by Alexandria Opportunities Center, the non-profit agency is merging with Fergus Falls-based Productive Alternatives.

"We're doing this for the long-term benefit of both the staff and the clients that we serve," said Mike Burke, AOC executive director. "It will allow us to provide more service options within Alexandria and the whole region. That's the driving force behind this."

Both organizations provide employment services to people with disabilities and have been exploring the benefits of a merger for a few months, he said. The announcement was made this week.

Alexandria Opportunities Center was founded in 1984, and currently serves about 110 people. The combined agency will serve 500 clients under the Productive Alternatives name.

Steve Skauge, Productive Alternatives' president, said the partnership will provide better support for persons with disabilities.

"I believe that together we are more strongly positioned to create service options for whom we serve," he said.

Productive Alternatives, Inc., which got its start in 1959, serves a much wider geographic area than Alexandria Opportunities Center, Burke said, and offers additional services. They provide adult day services, mental health services, public transit, transitional housing and other services throughout Minnesota and portions of North Dakota.

"We are very excited to unite two organizations that have over 94 years of combined experience providing employment options for persons with disabilities," Burke said. "Together we can provide stability and a future to those we serve."

The merger will be beneficial to each organization, Burke said, creating shared or additional services for their clients and operating efficiencies.

Stability was among the reasons for AOC pursuing the merger.

"Every time the legislature makes cuts, it hurts us deeply," he said of the reliance on a state funding formula for agencies that serve people with disabilities. Alexandria Opportunities Center was more vulnerable due to its reliance on one funding source.

"It's going to provide a long-term stabilization plan for us," Burke said.

He does not anticipate any job losses. In fact, the plan to add staff-intensive services could likely lead to expanding his staff of around 30 employees.

"We're doing this for a very positive reason," Burke said.

Over the next six months, the two organizations will work to combine their strengths and assets, with a goal of finalizing the merger by the end of the year.

They are both active members in Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation.