Competitors trying to play nice by uniting transportation lines

November 7, 2009
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A news release came in from the West Michigan Transportation Collaboration Initiative, which is meeting at Haworth in Holland this week.

The collaboration, organized by Supply Chain Solutions Inc. in Grand Rapids, is an idea for saving freight transportation costs: Companies would share semi-trailers that would otherwise be moving on the highway with less than a full load.

The concept really got its start a few years ago, when Steelcase, Haworth and some other furniture manufacturers agreed to share space on trailer loads of parts heading for the furniture plants in West Michigan.

"Basically, the industry uses the same supply base," said Les Brand, the head of Supply Chain Solutions.

The trucks being shared were third-party carriers, and SCS served as the middle man, arranging the transportation logistics.

"We wouldn't share confidential information," said Brand — if there was any, in those circumstances.

Then the idea got a little more daring. How about sharing a third-party carrier delivering orders? If two manufacturers are scheduled to deliver orders on the same general route at the same time, and one order alone doesn't fill the trailer, together they could put together a full load and share in the resulting efficiency.

The daring part is that any manufacturer would love to know who is buying its competition's products, and which products specifically they are buying.

When contacted by the Business Journal, Mike Scherrens, director of global distribution at Haworth, said it was "premature" to publish an article about the transportation collaboration. It's not a done deal, he said.

Joe Verbraska at Steelcase said he would have to check with the powers that be to see if he could talk to the Business Journal about it. That was the last we heard.

Steve Pritchard, director of distribution at Trendway, noted the existing collaboration on in-bound loads. He said there is "no harm" in talking about collaboration on out-bound truck loads, but that it is "just exploratory" at this point. The interested parties would "grow it from there if it has merit."

"It's competitors trying to play nice," joked Pritchard.

We heard Herman Miller wasn't interested in the collaboration. Why not?

A few years ago, Herman Miller got rid of its semi-tractors for long-haul transportation.

"While we no longer have the tractor fleet, we do have the trailer fleet," noted Herman Miller spokesperson Mark Schurman.

Those semi-trailers are clearly marked as belonging to Herman Miller.

"For significant orders, you'll see our trailer at the job site, with our dealer and installer team putting that (order) into the building, and that is part of branding the business. Letting the end users as well as the customer see the Herman Miller name."

Passing the torch

The passing last week of former Grand Rapids Mayor Lyman Parks recalls a time of dignified public service — the type of leadership memorialized in statues of public figures. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell issued a statement saluting Parks’ contribution to the community.

“I note with deep sadness the passing of former Grand Rapids Mayor Rev. Lyman Parks. Mayor Parks served this city as its only African-American mayor, to date. He oversaw a period of economic growth and helped assure that prosperity extended to all communities within our city,” wrote Heartwell.

“Mayor Parks led this community through an extraordinary time of social change and, with his calming presence and visionary leadership, saw us through to a new era of racial justice. I urge all citizens of Grand Rapids to reflect on Mayor Parks’ leadership and hold his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

The servant spirit of mayoral service also was noted last week in Wyoming and Holland. In Wyoming, Carol Sheets moves on after 16 years of collaborative service, and in Holland, Al McGeehan departs after also heading that city’s council for 16 years as a community cheerleader.

Goal line stand

Van Andel Arena officials haven’t put the turf, netting or goalposts on eBay yet and they seemingly don’t have any immediate plans to do so, because arena football may play again in the building. Although it’s fourth and extremely long for the Grand Rapids Rampage’s future, SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan told the Downtown Development Authority last week that Dan DeVos hasn’t given up and still wants to fill the building with indoor football fans — even with the Arena Football League in bankruptcy and looking for a buyer.

“There is movement afoot to keep arena football alive,” said MacKeigan.

DeVos and his wife, Pamella, owned (or still own?) the Rampage, and they brought a world championship to the building in 2001.

Meanwhile, arena football IS returning to Grand Rapids. It was announced last week that the professional indoor football franchise formerly known as the Muskegon Thunder have relocated to Grand Rapids and will be renamed the West Michigan ThunderHawks. The team’s new playing facility is the DeltaPlex Arena. The West Michigan ThunderHawks are part of the Indoor Football League, which has more than 20 teams throughout America.

DDA lineup change

Cathy Mueller, GRPS board president and major West Michigan Whitecaps fan, is leaving the DDA. Her term is up and rather than accept another one, she is making room for fellow board member Jane Gietzen.

“I think it’s important that the school board rotate its members. I’ve been keeping Jane abreast of the issues,” she said last week. “Thanks for the opportunity to serve. It’s been enlightening.”

Mueller developed a reputation for questioning certain spending choices during her short time on the board. Mayor Heartwell said she was an “extraordinary board member who understands government finances.”

The DDA will hold its strategy session Dec. 4 and Gietzen is likely to make that meeting her first one. And why not? It will be held at the JW Marriott, courtesy of DDA board member and Amway Grand Plaza President Joseph Tomaselli. Not that there is anything wrong with Room 601 in City Hall, mind you.

Sheriff’s budget quandary

There are likely to be more budget discussions between county commissioners and Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma. The department is planning to lay off 33 full-time workers, and quite a few of them have asked commissioners to save their jobs. One told the board last week that the stress level among workers at the jail was quite high. “I’m sure the vast number of employees feel this way. I’m proud to be a county employee.”

Much of the controversy revolves around privatizing the food service, a move that Stelma has said would save the department $500,000 a year. But some commissioners are looking at that savings with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t think, frankly, that we’ve gotten the explanations that we deserve,” said Commissioner Brandon Dillon last week. “I don’t think these employees are being let go because of their job performance. It’s because of the budget. And there are hidden costs in privatization,” added Commissioner Bill Hirsch.

But any further discussions that commissioners have with the sheriff are likely to be private and away from the nasty glare of the media. About a half dozen met with Stelma a little over a week ago and those that did came away understanding the sheriff’s situation. And as Commissioner Dean Agee pointed out last week, there may not be a whole lot the board can do about that budget. “We have to remember that the sheriff is a constitutional officer and it’s his budget,” he said.

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