Merger dismays OBA founder

Founding chair Tom Kelly explains why he opposes Associated Oregon Industries merger.

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The merger was announced Thursday.

“I’m very saddened by what happened,” said Kelly, owner of Neil Kelly and chair of the Portland Development Commission. 

Kelly, Celilo Group Media president Nik Blosser and several other business leaders founded OBA in 2009 after “watching AOI and not feeling comfortable about how the organization was representing businesses,” Kelly said. 

“So we started our own.” 

AOI membership skews toward legacy industries and is generally considered more conservative than the OBA on social and environmental issues. A case in point: the OBA supported the Clean Fuels program; AOI did not. 

In a press release announcing the merger, OBA Chair Sam Tannahill, founder of A to Z Wineworks, said the two organizations are now aligned on many policies. The new entity would allow the business community to speak with a unified voice, he said.

Kelly disputed that assessment. AOI “may have moderated but on many positions the organization is much more conservative,” he said.

Kelly and Blosser spoke against the merger during an OBA board meeting this week. Kelly, who was founding chair of the OBA board for five years, says he now regrets stepping down from that position.

“I’m just one person but [the merger] may have been less likely to happen,” he said.

Kelly said the merger was driven by such large companies as The Standard and Pacific Power who are members of both associations and don’t want their dollars spread between two organizations.

In an interview with Oregon Business last year, Blosser said the business community was not unified and that business associations tend to drift toward the lowest common denominator.

“There are lots of things that a majority of businesspeople can agree on,” he said. “However, the most controversial things — taxes, minimum wage and environmental issues — are not generally among them.”

The merger will not go into effect until July 1, after the 2017 legislative session.