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VOL. 125 | NO. 3 | Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Trucking Execs Look Forward to Speech About Nat’l Outlook

By Eric Smith

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TALKING POINT: Since truck driver Kurt Aschenbrenner started out in the business in 2003, diesel has tripled to nearly $4.80 a gallon. Meanwhile, the leader of the American Trucking Association will be in Memphis next week to discuss such issues with local members.

The Traffic Club of Memphis isn’t wasting any time tackling issues that will be important to the trucking industry in 2010.

At its first monthly meeting, set for Tuesday at The Racquet Club of Memphis, the longtime trade association has invited Tommy Hodges, recently installed chairman of the American Trucking Association, to deliver a keynote speech about all things trucking.

The speech will be held at noon with event check-in at 11:15 a.m. Full details, including cost and registration information, can be found at the Traffic Club’s Web site, www.trafficclubofmemphis.com.

Hodges, chairman of Shelbyville, Tenn.-based Titan Transfer Inc. and former chairman of the Tennessee Trucking Association, said he will address a variety of subjects pertaining to the trucking industry, such as what companies can do to cope with changes that have occurred or could occur this year.

The two main topics revolve around hours of service for truckers and the reauthorization of the highway transportation bill, but Hodges added anything that has to do with regulation from Washington, such as cap-and-trade legislation and weight issues for trucks – all hot topics for the trucking industry – are fair game.

Better days

Hodges said he won’t go into great detail on any particular issue, but said he will “try to make the folks aware of some issues that are on the national front that we all need to be watching for and prepare for.”

As for trucking volume projections, Hodges said those are harder to gauge as the industry reels from a difficult two-year period. But Memphis trucking and transportation officials will hear at least a little bit of good news during Hodges’ speech.

“2010 will definitely be better than 2009, but we’re in such uncharted waters because of the severity of the 2008-2009 recession that nobody’s really out on a limb making many predictions about what will be,” Hodges said. “But we are watching the inventory, the sales ratios, and we are seeing some very positive trends.

“It’s setting up for being a much, much, much better year.”

That’s music to the ears of an industry that has been decimated by the sluggish economy. Hodges said 4,000 trucking companies have filed for bankruptcy nationwide in the past seven quarters, according to ATA data. Locally, the outlook has been just as dire as trucking companies of all sizes try to weather the storm.

Because of that, and because Hodges is a Tennessee trucking professional who can emphathize with local executives, anticipation for this event has been mounting, said Traffic Club media relations director Jim DeWeese of ABF Freight System Inc.

“There are a lot of people waiting for this meeting to come around,” DeWeese said.

Nick of time

As Hodges pointed out, Tennessee carriers have been hit especially hard by the economy because so many companies here had become dependent on automotive sales, on the manufacturing and supply sides. So as the auto industry tanked, trucking companies felt the brunt.

Marty Morelli, senior account manager for ABF Freight System Inc. and 2010 president of the Traffic Club, said that makes Hodges’ speech timely and poignant.

“The economy’s in dire straits and a lot of carriers are as well, so he can give us an economic forecast directly related to the industry and kind of predict the future,” Morelli said. “Some of our carriers and providers are on life support and basically a day-to-day status. He’ll give us some insight for predicting the future on that.”

Morelli said he hopes that having a Tennessee trucker in an influential position with the national trade association will be a boon for local transportation companies, who are keeping an eye on everything from immediate concerns, such as infrastructure improvement, to long-term concerns like an aging work force and potential driver shortages.

“We need all the voices and influence in Washington and in Nashville as well regarding the infrastructure, how we finance that and fund it,” Morelli said. “The stimulus package has probably fallen short of covering all the needs of preparing roads and bridges that are in constant decay.”

Perhaps nowhere is the advancement of trucking issues more important than in Memphis, where the city’s geography and access to all four modes of transportation – air, road, rail and river – make it a nexus for moving goods throughout the country and the world.

“With Memphis being America’s Distribution Center, it’s an inordinate number of jobs that are directly or indirectly related to transportation, and trucking in particular,” Morelli said. “No matter whether you’re in air freight, ocean or rail, typically some portion of that (cargo transit) moves over the road.”

The Hodges speech kicks off the year for the Traffic Club, whose roots date back to 1913 as Rail ‘n’ Road. Though it now has a “hundred-plus members,” Morelli said, he hopes events like next week’s will attract new membership.

PROPERTY SALES 51 333 19,446
MORTGAGES 68 383 22,433
BUILDING PERMITS 138 688 40,004
BANKRUPTCIES 34 238 12,486