City Sustaining Its Drive Toward Lean

July 7, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The triple bottom line the city has engaged in was doubled up recently for the first time when commissioners renewed a pair of contracts.

One renewal authorized a second one-year agreement with Lean Concepts LLC, a firm that applies the fundamentals of the Toyota Production System to the office. Known as “value streams,” these processes reportedly make departments more efficient.

The Lean Thinking concept, as it is called, has been embraced by entities that have been able to reduce their work forces as the city has done in recent years.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said the city has made strides in the library system, in the engineering department and at Parking Services by utilizing recommendations made by Lean Concepts over the past year. He said the value streams have cut processing delays and the agreement has saved the city money.

But when 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala asked how much the contract with Lean Concepts has saved the city, DeLong said he didn’t know, because it is hard to come up with a concrete figure.

“We’re working on ways to quantify savings. But I can assure you, we do have savings,” he said.

Mayor George Heartwell added that DeLong needed to give the commission that figure because other governments and area manufacturers were watching the city’s progress in this area very closely.

One figure that pleased commissioners, however, was the price tag of the second-year contract with Lean Concepts. Year two is $15,000 less than the cost of the first agreement.

“The contract is for $35,000, which is less than it was last year. We have the money in our budget,” said DeLong.

Lean Concepts will be working with the police and fire departments, human resources, the district court and other city departments over the coming year.

Commissioners also agreed to renew a contract the city has had with Earth Tech since 1994, when the city enlisted the engineering firm to manage its Environmental Protection Service Department. The new agreement is for three years. Earth Tech will continue to direct the EPS department until the end of this year.

Then starting on Jan. 1, Earth Tech’s Cortland Overmyer will become the sustainability manager for the city. DeLong told commissioners that Overmyer’s direction of EPS was commendable and that the new contract would save the city roughly $10,000 each year.

“This keeps us within our budget that we adopted,” said Heartwell.

Earth Tech has directed the city’s activities on a number of major initiatives such as the master plan for water and sewer and the Lower Grand Watershed plan.

DeLong said that shifting Overmyer from the wastewater treatment plant to City Hall would move the work the city is doing in the sustainability realm further along and at a faster pace.    

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