Trucking industry representatives and employees packed the spacious Tennessee Ballroom at Hilton Memphis, the gleaming glass hotel in East Memphis, for Carnival Memphis’ salute to the trucking industry.
Ed Gatlin, founder of trucking company Empire Express, was honored at Carnival Memphis’ salute to the trucking industry Wednesday with the Chairman’s Award.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“The trucking industry is the lifeblood of the economy,” said King of Carnival Jim McCullough of General Truck Sales and Service Inc. “Simply put, without trucks the economy stops.”
That statement brought the crowd of more than 500 people to its feet for a rousing round of sustained applause.
As part of Carnival Memphis’ 83rd anniversary celebration, the organization saluted the Mid-South trucking industry during its salute luncheon on Wednesday, April 30.
While designed to recognize titans of trucking, the event also raised funds for children’s charities like Binghampton Christian Academy, Baptist Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief and Juvenile Intervention and Faith-based Follow-up.
Ed Gatlin, founder of trucking company Empire Express, was honored with the Chairman’s Award.
Gatlin launched Empire Express with only 12 trucks and 12 trailers. Since then Empire Express has expanded to a total of 200 trucks, 550 trailers and 235 employees today.
“The journey has been tremendous, the journey has been exciting and the journey has been rewarding,” Gatlin said.
Tom Watson, co-chairman of Armstrong Relocation and Cos., won the President’s Award for his efforts to help Armstrong reach new heights.
When Watson began working for the company in 1970 the company had 40 employees and locations in Memphis and Louisville, Ky. Today, Armstrong Relocation and Cos. is the second-largest mover of household goods in the United States. The company, one of the largest hauling and booking agents for United Van Lines, employs more than 1,025 full-time employees and owner-operators, dispatches nearly 500 trucks and operates more than 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space.
“It’s humbling to be honest with you,” Watson said. “Armstrong has been a blessing to my family for many years.”
Ozark Motor Lines started with humble beginnings, using a single 1949 Ford pickup to carry freight from Memphis to Missouri. Today, Ozark employs around 900 people, delivering freight across the United States, with terminals in Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Mississippi and Indiana.
Mark George, winner of this year’s King’s Award, moved to Memphis with his wife in 1982 to launch Intermodal Cartage Co.
“When we came to Memphis in 1982 the catchphrase was ‘America’s Distribution Center’ and it certainly has become America’s distribution center,” said George, who launched IMC Cos. in 2009 and serves as chairman of the group that has become one of the largest intermodal carriers in the country with over 1,500 employees.
Steve Higginbotham and Tommy Higginbotham, whose parents Mose and Dorothy Higginbotham founded Ozark, were honored with Carnival’s Cook Halle Award, which is named after Everett R. Cook and A. Arthur Halle, who founded what was formally called Cotton Carnival.
“This is a great award and it’s for our employees and customers who we couldn’t do anything without,” said Steve Higginbotham.
Gatlin and others praised the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the trucking industry.
“You could say that was the big bang of highway transportation and resulted in the trucking industry today,” Gatlin said. “I would dare say the winner today is the American consumer because it made a more efficient, low-cost transportation system.”
Other companies that were honored include Builders Transportation Co. LLC, Fleet Equipment LLC, IMC Cos. LLC, JNJ Express Inc., Mid-South Transport Inc., Summit Holdings, Trans-Carriers Inc. and Tri-State Truck Center Inc.