Happy New Year! With the arrival of 2020, so also arrives the end of my tenure as chair of OBI’s board of directors. I’ll soon be passing the torch to Karen Vineyard, OBI’s first vice chair and Bank of America Merrill Lynch market executive for global commercial banking.
It’s been my honor to help guide Oregon Business & Industry following one of the largest transitions we have ever seen, the 2017 merger of Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Association to create one unified voice for business, OBI. This was a big change and it wasn’t always easy, but we have come out the other side stronger for it. In fact, I am proud to report that member investment in our organization grew by more than 10% in 2019, making it the best year in our history, pre- and post-merger! Thank you to all of you for supporting OBI and the important work we do on behalf of Oregon business.
More importantly, we proved that, as a strong, unified voice for business, we can have an impact on laws and regulations that affect how companies operate in Oregon. Let’s be honest, the 2019 legislative session was challenging for business. With a Democratic supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, we knew we would face an aggressive policy agenda we might not always agree with, so mitigating impacts and managing risks would have to be a big part of our strategy. This is not always an easy line to walk; we had to constantly evaluate where it made sense to engage and negotiate and where it would be better to be a firm no. Our calculus always relied on examining what would provide the best outcomes for our members as a whole, even when it meant engaging on proposals we would have preferred not to move forward.
A prime example is the new corporate activity tax passed by the Legislature last spring. While OBI could never support a gross-receipts-based tax, it became clear in late 2018 the Legislature was moving in that direction. The votes were there. So, we focused on mitigation, working with business association partners to negotiate a provision that will allow businesses to deduct 35% of their cost of goods sold or 35% of their labor costs. Through this work, we lessened the impact of tax “pyramiding,” a troubling attribute of a gross receipts tax which results in higher effective tax rates for many industries, providing some relief in a tough new tax bill.
At another table, OBI played a major role in designing the new paid family and medical leave policy, which resulted in a bill that is substantially less costly for our business members than the alternatives that were on the table. Employment law continues to be a major focus for us, and OBI has impacted legislation related to worker’s compensation rules, wage and hour laws, employee benefits and much more.
On the regulatory front, we’re fully engaged in rulemakings at a number of state agencies. At DEQ alone, our OBI team is active on 10 different rulemakings, all very time consuming and all with outcomes that will matter to our members.”
We’ve made a lot of progress since we inked the merger in July 2017, and we still have a ways to go. At our retreat in November, we talked at length about how we need to make sure the OBI board and executive committee reflect the breadth and diversity of Oregon business. We want our table to include businesses from every corner of our state. We want to hear from small business as well as big corporations. And we want to ensure that every industry has a voice. And we are committed that we, as the leaders for Oregon business, will reflect the changing face of Oregon’s population, so we are developing goals around ethnic and gender diversity.
I would say that OBI is a work in progress, and perhaps we always will be. We have to remain dynamic and evolve as our state changes. But our core mission will remain the same: to promote an Oregon where a strong business community prospers, thus creating the economic base that will enable communities and families across our state to thrive.
Leading OBI has been one of the great honors of my career. I want to thank the OBI board for giving me this opportunity, and for helping me steer the right course during our most difficult moments these last two years. Thank you also to the great OBI staff. Their work is what really makes a difference for our members.
And, lastly, thank you to you, our members, for knowing business needs a seat at the table. Without your support, we would not be the great organization we have become. I hope you will support Karen Vineyard as you have supported me these last two years.
All the best in 2020.