Members of the business associations say it could be time to reunite after 22 years
Portland's two biggest business associations Ñ the Portland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Association for Portland Progress Ñ could merge by midyear.
Proponents say uniting the chamber and the APP, which is Portland's downtown development and advocacy group, would result in an organization with a stronger voice for the metro region.
'The program overlaps are not substantial,' says merger supporter Don McClave, who is retiring at the end of the year after 15 years as the chamber's president and chief executive officer. 'It's a question of having more resources through common overhead.'
An advisory board composed equally of chamber and APP directors has been discussing the mechanics of a merger for several months. If it takes place, plans call for the new entity to be in place by July 1, with APP President and Chief Executive Officer Franklin 'Kim' Kimbrough heading the new group.
'Kim is remarkably talented, has a lot of experience and, in my opinion, could easily run a larger organization,' McClave says.
The idea of joining the chamber and the APP has been batted around for years, he says, and the issue came up again after Kimbrough was hired.
'The more people talked, the more it made sense,' McClave says.
The merger idea wasn't prompted by economic need, according to McClave. Both APP and the chamber are healthy financially. But, he says, 'it should take pressure off both organizations to increase dues for a long time.'
Also, with just one CEO on the payroll, the salary money could be diverted to other uses.
Both men say four or five positions would be dropped from the merged staff.
Downtown core a concern
Some have misgivings about the merger, however.
APP board member Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books, doesn't want the association's focus on the central city to be lost in the shuffle.
'It's not that I'm necessarily opposed. I have my reservations,' he says. 'I would like to be more assured than I am at the moment that there will be a venue for maintaining a strong focus on the needs of downtown.'
Portland Mayor Vera Katz supports the merger Ñ 'as long as there is some mechanism for maintaining the strength of the central city.'
Kimbrough says maintaining the vibrancy and vitality of the central city will remain a primary goal if the merger happens.
'That's what APP's been doing, and that's not going to change,' he says. 'It would be ludicrous for us to stop or change any part of that.'
In addition to promoting and marketing downtown, the APP contracts with the city to perform a number of functions for a 200-block business improvement district, including policing, street and sidewalk cleaning, operating six parking garages and tourism services.
Qwest Vice President Judy Peppler, a member of the joint merger committee, says there are 'any number of issues we still need to work through that I suppose could conceivably derail it, but people are going to work hard to try to work through those issues.'
Peppler, whose company belongs both to APP and the chamber, says members of both boards have stressed that a focus on downtown is critical.
'It's the engine that kind of helps economic development on a more regional basis,' she says.
Chamber board is unanimous
The traditional services provided by both the chamber and APP wouldn't change, Kimbrough says.
But he expects new staff members to come on board to provide a full-time presence in Salem. Other individuals would be assigned to deal with the city and regional governments and to address transportation, job and environmental issues.
A national media representative would be charged with making sure that the region's success stories make it into the national press.
The chamber's 51-member board of directors unanimously OK'd the merger a couple of weeks ago. Ballots were mailed to APP's board last week; results are expected to be announced at the group's board meeting Feb. 12. A simple majority will determine whether the merger proceeds.
George Passadore, chairman of the chamber board and a past chairman of the APP board, predicts that the merger will be approved.
Passadore, who is Wells Fargo president for Oregon, says he was surprised by the chamber board's unanimous vote, which came after three hours of spirited debate and conversation.
Chief among the concerns voiced, he said: 'Aren't these really two separate organizations with two separate missions? The more we would talk about that, the more people would realize we're really not.'
As business organizations, 'both care deeply about Portland and the region and the state,' Passadore says. 'And although APP is tightly focused on the central city, those issues that affect the central city often affect the region and the state as well.
'The chamber, with a slightly broader set of constituents, is very much interested in a strong central city.'
More clout in Salem
Qwest's Peppler says a merger would result in a larger organization speaking with a single voice, 'to make it more likely that the voice would be heard by elected officials.'
Chris Finks, the APP's vice president of marketing, says lobbying for the region's interests are more important than ever. If downtown is healthy, he says, 'so goes the neighborhood. The other way around is true, too: If the region is healthy, so is downtown.'
The chamber of commerce was incorporated in 1890, but it dates its formation to 1865 and to a group called the Board of Trade. The majority of its 1,700 members are from Portland, but businesses in Clackamas, Washington and Clark counties also belong, including some of the region's biggest employers: Intel, Nike and Wafertech.
APP and the chamber were a single entity until APP split off 22 years ago to focus on downtown.
'I think the feeling, quite honestly, was that the chamber
wasn't doing its job at the time,' says McClave, who adds that APP now is viewed as one of the country's most successful downtown associations.
Contact Jeanie Senior at