OLA Steps Up Merger Talks With The Vision Council

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Plans for the proposed merger between the Optical Laboratories Association (OLA) and The Vision Council dominated the OLA’s annual meeting, held here last week. A panel of OLA and Vision Council officials explored the topic in depth during a well-attended open forum on Friday, followed by second session on Saturday.

Although the idea of bringing the two optical industry organizations together, including co-locating the annual OLA meeting at Vision Expo West, has been discussed informally by labs and vendors in recent years, last week’s OLA sessions mark the first time it has been aired publically. Although many OLA members said they are in favor of the merger, some expressed concern that their 115-year old organization would become overshadowed by the larger Vision Council.

“We want OLA to remain a strong organization that will keep its identity,” said outgoing OLA president J. Larry Enright of Perferx Optical, speaking at the open forum, which was moderated by OLA executive director Bob Dziuban. The other panelists who took part in the discussion were OLA vice president Jonathan Jacobs, treasurer Mike Francesconi, past president Steve Sutherlin, Greg Chavez, vice president of member services for The Vision Council and Mike Daley, chairman of The Vision Council’s board of directors.

However, Vision Council officials sought to reassure OLA officials and members that the merger would be mutually advantageous.

“We don’t see this as a takeover. It’s a merger of equals,” said Daley. “We are both very successful organizations. By merging together, we’ll be taking advantage of our clout and additional credibility to advocate for better vision care.”

In the event of a merger, the OLA would retain its name and logo, as well as the autonomy to operate independently, according to Dziuban. The OLA board of directors would remain intact, as well as the organization’s products and services. The dues structures for the two groups would be harmonized, and overhead costs would be reduced by sharing administration functions and offices.

Because the merger requires a change in the OLA’s bylaws, it must be approved by the OLA’s members. Although there is no set timetable for a vote, Enright said he expects it to occur in early 2010.

The issue of co-locating the OLA meeting with Vision Expo West, which does not require a vote from OLA members, is more urgent because vendors need sufficient time to plan their budgets. In addition, OLA needs to overcome some logistical issues. The most significant is a contract that commits OLA to hold its 2010 annual meeting at the Gaylord Hotel in Orlando, Fla. However, Vision Council executive director Ed Greene said The Vision Council and Reed Exhibitions, which produces International Vision Expo, would explore options for renegotiating the Gaylord contract that could involve substituting another event for the OLA meeting.

View a slide show of the events that took place at the OLA Annual Meeting, including the Hall of Fame honorees, Awards of Excellence winners and views from the exhibit floor and education sessions.