Engineer a local contract

By ART CULLEN

It made reasonable sense: An engineering firm that does not have offices in Storm Lake but has done a lot of water work here was hired to do some more water work. Bolton and Menck were assigned by City Hall to work on a couple more water main projects. And this is why we elect a city council: Councilman Tyson Rice raised objections about the routine contract offering because staff did not consider I&S Group, which does have offices and firm owners in Storm Lake.

The rest of the council agreed that the consulting job should be put on hold until the local engineers get a fair shot.

Mayor Jon Kruse argued that it is more efficient to use Bolton and Menck because they have done so much work here. That suggests that I&S Group has been frozen out for some time.

Each firm offers the same service. Each can boast fully certified engineers who know how to build a water main. Each probably charges about the same rates. But we don’t know, really, because I&S Group has not been allowed to make a proposal.

The first shot should go to the local outfit. Although I&S is headquartered in Mankato (as is Bolton and Menck), its principals in Storm Lake are partners in the firm. Managing Partner Ivan Droessler is well-known and well-respected throughout Iowa engineering circles, and he is well-loved in Storm Lake for his many community contributions. Bolton and Menck cannot claim that product differentiation. If you have a problem, the I&S engineer is about three minutes away.

The I&S engineer also is shopping in your stores, reading this newspaper and paying local property taxes.

If Bolton and Menck charged half the price, or if I&S did substandard work, that is another matter. But we do not know that either of those conditions is true. To the contrary, I&S has a good reputation for services.

I&S should get every city job unless it is clearly over the firm’s head. Replacing a couple water lines is well inside any engineer’s wheelhouse.

Courtesy suggests that for this particular job, I&S should be weighed against Bolton and Menck since staff assured them of the work already. Bolton and Menck deserve to make an argument for their services in front of the council and the public. Let I&S do the same, and select a firm based on price, quality and efficiency. In the future, pencil in the local firm every time until they prove they can’t compete. Truth is, I&S Group competes favorably in every town they serve other than Storm Lake. That, as Rice says, is bad business.