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Merger between disability service providers may mean larger Washington County presence

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Two East Metro disability services are now one.

Rise, Inc. and ESR announced this summer that they would merge the two companies into one central disability services organization.

When ESR's longtime executive director Ed Boeve announced his intention to retire this summer, the organization started discussing whether to hire a new director or to merge with another company. He retired in July.

That's where Rise came in.

ESR, which has been around for 54 years, joined with the 47-year-old Rise to come together as a one-stop shop for adults with disabilities to find employment and habilitation, as well as some transportation, housing and vocational services.

ESR, at this time a subsidiary of Rise, is anticipated to be fully merged into the organization as of Jan. 1.

The two organizations were a good fit for each other, said Rise CEO Lynn Noren.

"(We're) all about supporting people who have disabilities and other kinds of barriers to self sufficiency to be as independent as possible," she said.

"The first thing we looked at when we thought about partnering was mission," Noren added.

ESR has locations in Cottage Grove, Stillwater, New Richmond, Oakdale and Forest Lake that will continue to operate. Most administration services will be moved to the central Rise office in Spring Lake Park.

Combined, the two organizations served over 3,000 individuals last year, and Noren said she hopes that number will continue to grow in light of the merger.

East Metro focus

Noreen said the merger will ensure that there is an increased focus on Washington County, as well as continuing expansion into more areas. ESR provides services into St. Croix County in Wisconsin, especially the city of New Richmond. Rise provides services throughout the state.

"Our goal would be to grow services in the Washington County community that are available and needed today," Noren said.

ESR was one of the largest contractors Washington County worked with — nearly since the organization launched, Washington County Community Services' Lisa Glasspoole said.

She said ESR has always been great to work with, and the merger shows no signs of interrupting services provided through the county.

"Everybody's goal is to have people working in the community," Glasspoole said.

They also have in-center programs, but county staff prefer employment options. She said they are keeping the "exact same services," so that focus won't change.

Shared resources

Though it wasn't the driving reason for the merge, Noren said, the 7-percent cut in funding both organizations were and are facing made it a good time to come together.

The change is "daunting," but she said anything to increase efficiency will help them provide the best services they can.

Because of Rise's size, she said they also will be able to update ESR's infrastructure, merging their staffs and implementing Rise's more updated technology.

"We will be able to operate more efficiently," she said.

With Rise moving more into ESR's former territory, Noren said they will also be able to form more partnerships, which will help them learn and grow over time.

"Developing partnerships, not only with community partners and businesses, those things take time," she said. "So we will take time to examine the area and listen to leaders in Washington County."