The consummate Oregonian

The consummate Oregonian

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Tom Kelly delivers meals to homebound seniors in Portland as part of the Loaves & Fishes program.
// Photo by Christopher Barth

Five years after the collapse of the housing market, Neil Kelly is slowly getting back on its feet. Although Kelly declined to reveal total gross revenues, the employee count is now up to 160, with much of that increase dedicated to the new Seattle location and the Home Performance division, which in 2012 is expected to bring in $6 million, double 2009 revenues. In Bend, Kelly’s remodeling business is up 23%, 53% in Eugene.

As sales rebound, Kelly aims to grow the company into a regional remodeling firm, with a Seattle showroom debuting this fall. It’s a legacy project he hopes to pass on to his son, Garret, 21, a student at Portland State University who has expressed interest in third-generation ownership. Kelly sees an employee stock ownership plan as another option.

Remodeling is a tough business. It requires going into people’s homes, never knowing what’s behind the walls, and often competing with people who work out of the back of a pickup truck. In a chaotic industry, Kelly has built a business of national stature that not only reflects Kelly family values but also serves as a mirror of Oregon — solid, dependable, but with ambitions for something better. Whether the state retains those values today is a matter of some debate, but Kelly, who laments the state of higher education funding in particular — “in many ways we’re going backwards” — remains unflagging. In December, when The Oregonian published an article criticizing the high cost of the proposed Oregonian Sustainability Center, he fired off a letter to the editor focusing on the bigger picture. “The OSC is not a real estate project,” he wrote. “It is a proposed state of the living laboratory, a university research center and a showcase for Oregon’s ultra-efficient building sector.”

In true Kelly fashion, not all his civic involvement projects are so grandiose or cutting edge. On a recent morning, Kelly and sales vice president Randy Hudson were stooped over the trunk of the former’s Lexus hybrid, picking out meals to deliver to homebound seniors.

“There are so many causes in this world,” says Kelly, who drives the same meals-on-wheels route his father pioneered 40 years ago. “This one is straightforward: nutrition and social interaction for shut-ins.”

The first part of that assessment applies as much to the man as it does Loaves & Fishes. No matter how big or small the cause, Kelly’s estimation of his life and his role in the community is disarmingly direct.

“How do you develop self-worth in this world?” he asks, simply. “Business is just a huge lever for that.”

Linda Baker is the managing editor of Oregon Business. She can be reached at lindab(at)oregonbusiness.com.