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Collaboration builds with NEON group

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WORTHINGTON — After four months and just as many stakeholder meetings, city, county, township and school district leaders have formally adopted NEON — the Nobles Economic Opportunity Network — as the name for a program aimed to increase collaboration and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.

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The concept for NEON is based on a similar program in the southwest metro area known as SCALE, or Scott County Alliance for Leadership and Efficiency. Both the current and former administrators of Scott County talked with local leaders about the types of collaboration they have done and how it has improved efficiencies.

“It goes back to the old adage that two heads are better than one,” said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson of the reason NEON was formed.

Increased collaboration between governmental agencies — taxing authorities — is anticipated to result in savings, whether in the form of lower increases in taxes or reductions in taxes.

Collaborating is certainly not a new idea in Nobles County. Johnson said there are numerous such projects already occurring locally, from shared storage space for salt and sand to snowplowing agreements and shared use of school facilities.

“We’re kind of, in some respects, an old hand at working together as far as resources are concerned,” said Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark. “I think our community, in a lot of ways, has recognized collaboration as necessary. This is an effort to see where we can do even better.”

NEON is still in its infancy, and both Clark and Johnson hope for broader buy-in and participation. While meetings so far had a smattering of representation from outlying communities, the goal is that each community, school district, watershed district and township will ultimately be represented at each monthly meeting.

Once that broader participation is reached, Clark said working on issues can begin.

“I think every time we talk about potential projects, it seems like the big projects that are the most difficult are the most fun to talk about, but hard to get results on,” Johnson said.

Earlier this month, the group’s meeting included discussion on how public safety entities collaborate as well as broadband availability in southwest Minnesota..

“How do we get a fiber network to the county and across the county?” Johnson asked. “That’s a big challenge.”

“There’s very little federal or state money available, and it’s kind of hard to get the companies to invest (in rural areas),” Johnson continued.

Previous meetings included discussion on a potential sports complex in Worthington, supply purchases for townships and potential increased collaboration in information technology.

“So many agencies rely on computers, but not many can afford a staff person,” Johnson said. “I think the county and school district do have dedicated people. Can we assist people? We’re already going to be working with the city and Worthington Public Utilities on some things as far as IT goes.”

A combined city and county public works facility has also been raised in the discussions.

“Everything’s a possibility,” said Clark. “We’re all in this together. Worthington’s success is the success of Adrian and vice versa. We’re all trying to work together to the benefit of our region.

“The more that we recognize we’re in this as a region than individual communities then the better and stronger we’ll be, because we compete in a regional, state and in some respects global marketplace,” he added. “These disagreements we have sometimes really pale in comparison to the need for us to work together.”

NEON meets from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Worthington Fire Hall. The next meeting is June 12, and the plan is to invite local legislators for a wrap-up of the 2014 session and discussion of potential projects.

Johnson said the public is invited to attend any of the meetings. Eventually, the goal is to have appointed delegates and alternates from each of the governing bodies.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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