March 19, 2012 | last updated April 19, 2012 2:06 pm

MLK Center, SMOC Merge

Worcester's Martin Luther King Jr. Business Empowerment Center is merging with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council.

The two groups said the merger will allow the center, which was founded in 1994, to continue to provide business and workforce development support in the Greater Worcester area. The office will remain at 237 Chandler St., and co-founder Robert Thomas, who has been president and CEO of the group for 18 years, will remain director.

SMOC, which is based in Framingham, is focused primarily on providing housing and support services. It has landed in the middle of controversies around the siting of facilities in other communities, and the two groups noted in a statement that the Worcester location will not be used as a shelter or group residence.

Officials of the two organizations signed merger agreement papers Monday afternoon at the center. Polly Tatum, president of the center's board of directors, called the merger a "wonderful opportunity" for the center to continue its mission.
Jerry Desilets, SMOC's director of planning, said the two groups had been discussing a merger for "a number of months."

Thomas said in the statement that the groups' missions make sense together. SMOC can help people with basic necessities, and the MLK center has the resources to help them find jobs or start small businesses. There is also the added clout SMOC will bring with it when it comes to applying for grants. Thomas cited an example of an application from the center for a $1.5-million request to the U.S. Department of Labor to help train people ages 14 to 21 on work skills and civic engagement. He said SMOC's clout in securing government money will improve the center's chance to get that money.

According to public tax documents, the MLK center was operating in the red from 2008 until at least 2010. In 2010, it listed revenues of $609,338 and expenses of $725,557.

(Worcester Business Journal staff writer Rick Saia contrinbuted to this report.)


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