As life for Americans returns to normal, carriers attending one of the first in-person industry events to be held in U.S. since COVID-19 emerged, expressed optimism about opportunities that await motor carriers.
“To have a record turnout at our Mid-Year — if you had asked me two months ago where we would be with that, I would not have been able to accurately answer that,” Spear told Transport Topics from the event. “People’s enthusiasm is high, and it’s helpful for us as an association.”
USA Truck CEO James Reed said his Van Buren, Ark.-based trucking company has never been busier. “The business is very healthy, there is a lot of demand,” he told TT. “Our customers are seeing more business than they’ve ever seen, and they need truckers to move that freight.”
He noted, however, that finding qualified drivers and technicians to keep trucks running remains a key industry concern.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Reed said. “On the one hand it’s quite good and on the other hand, there are some real challenges.” USA Truck and other companies have raised pay over the past several years to remain competitive.
Indiana Motor Truck Association President Gary Langston told TT the work drivers have done to help the country through the pandemic is now paying dividends.
“Trucking right now is very good, and there’s more freight to haul than we have drivers to move it,” Langston said. He noted that there is a lot of industry interest in the DRIVE-Safe Act now circulating on Capitol Hill that would establish a training program to permit drivers younger than 21 to drive in interstate commerce. “Hopefully we’re going to get that moving forward,” Langston said.
“We need more new entrants,” added Jeremy Reymer, CEO of Indianapolis-based recruitment firm DriverReach “We need to reduce the minimum age from 21 to get into the industry. The average age of someone entering trucking is 38 — that’s 17 years — and it exists because there is no path to enter after high school and they move on to something else.”
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello is optimistic for the industry’s future.
“I’m expecting over a 9% annualized gain in the second quarter and 7% plus in the third and fourth quarters. That gets you to 6.7% GDP growth this year,” Costello told TT. “There’s a lot of freight and a lot of goods to be bought. We have historic low inventories in the supply chain and there has to be an inventory rebuild like you’ve never seen before. That’s going to lead to a lot of freight.”
“Their home is on the road,” Spear said. “The importance of them doing their job really came to the surface the last 14 months. Throughout this pandemic they’ve never let up. They’ve continued to do their job. Long hours away from their families at great uncertainty, high anxiety and a lot of risk and they got it done.”
Spear noted that their efforts have elevated trucking overall.
“Our image has reached epic levels,” Spear said. “Now when we advocate something people recognize us. They got the job done when we needed them most.”