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The Memorial Bell Tower on the campus of Northwest Missouri State University is shown.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the smartphone and his company didn’t unveil the first handset with computing applications. But Apple’s first iPhone in 2007 didn’t just enter the market, it created a new one where everyone else had to follow.

It would be an overreach to suggest that Northwest Missouri State University’s new Agricultural Learning Center is the iPhone of ag facilities. It isn’t a disrupting force.

But let’s be fair, sometimes it’s not about who goes first but who finishes first.

The Buchanan County Ag Expo Center has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. It’s still on the drawing board, with backers and organizers looking for a new location and new sources of money after the Expo Center property east of St. Joseph was sold to Steven Craig.

Northwest has described its $11.4 million Agricultural Learning Center as decades in the making, but the facility seemed to quickly go from dream to reality when the university drew on its network of public and private donors. In April, Northwest began construction on a 29,000-square-foot multipurpose facility that will enhance the School of Agricultural Sciences and provide laboratory, kitchen and exposition space to the university and the community.

More than $6.5 million has been raised, with support from nearly 50 public and private donors who provided gifts of $25,000 or more. Northwest also received $2.5 million from the state of Missouri.

This month, the project took another step forward when the Nodaway County commissioners presented a check for $12,500 and pledged a second gift for a total of $25,000. The facility in Maryville is on schedule for completion in early summer.

Some of the functions of the two facilities seem similar. Northwest’s Agricultural Learning Center will provide meetings or events space for 4H, FFA, commodity groups and agribusinesses. Both have or would have a strong emphasis on education, though the Expo Center might envision more of a focus on younger students in Buchanan County.

The two facilities, one almost completed and one still looking to find its footing, shouldn’t be seen as competing against each other. Northwest has tapped into a deep need for agricultural education and services in our area, which is something that extends to Buchanan County.

In fact, the Agricultural Learning Center could enhance efforts to develop an Ag Expo Center in St. Joseph. That’s because the center in Maryville will demonstrate whether a market exists and provide a concrete example of this kind of facility.

Difficulty explaining the Expo Center concept has been one of the drawbacks in getting it built in Buchanan County. Now they can point to what one looks like, just 45 miles to the north.