Path Home Shows 2016 Show Archive February 2016 Show 1606 Crossroads: Wheels of Commerce

Crossroads: Wheels of Commerce

Trains, planes, automobiles and barges all play vital roles in Oklahoma’s transportation industry.
Crossroads: Wheels of Commerce

Crossroads: Wheels of Commerce

For more information visit these links:

Oklahoma Department of Commerce

 

Oklahoma Policy Institute

Oklahoma Trucking Association

Melton Truck Lines

Princess Transport

Show Details

Show 1606: Crossroads: Wheels of Commerce
Air Date: February 7, 2016

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Well, look up the word crossroads, and you’ll find three definitions: a place where roads intersect; a point at which a vital decision must be made; and the main center of activity. And all three certainly apply when you talk about Oklahoma’s transportation industry. From trains, planes, automobiles and barges, our focus today is on the role transportation plays in our economy, and we begin with the big rigs.

Jim Newport: If trucking stops, Oklahoma stops, America stops. It’s that vital.

Rob McClendon: Jim Newport is the executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association and says most enterprising industries work on an at-need or just-in-time basis. So if these wheels stop rolling, so does everything else.

Newport: If you think about fuel at your local gas station, think about the groceries on the shelf, most of those are going to run between a one- to a three-day supply, and they’re out.

Rob: Meet Bob Peterson, president of Melton Truck Lines.

Bob Peterson: Whether it’s the bricks behind me or the TVs, it was all moved by truck. And a lot of times, trains will move heavy industrial goods to an area, but then the truck takes it and delivers it to its final location.

Rob: Melton operates more than 1,200 trucks, shipping loads from Mexico to Canada, with some trucks on the road as long as six months at a time.

Peterson: We think it’s important to the state of Oklahoma and to the country simply because it’s essential if you want to get goods moved.

Rob: And while Melton is one of the state’s largest private carriers, they’re far from alone. Oklahoma is home to over 12,000 trucking companies – the majority, smaller mom-and-pop operations. At Princess Transport in Durant, Donnalla Miller and her husband Chris use local owner/operators to help deliver sand to regional foundries. And just like the national carriers, Princess Transport’s entire business model is built on timeliness.

Donnalla Miller: If they say we need you there between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., that’s what they mean.

Roger Moore: If it’s not here on time, then we can’t produce what our stores are selling so we can’t service our customers.

Rob: Roger Moore is with the tile shop that produces tile for showrooms across the country.

Moore: It will halt. If I’ve ran out, production will halt completely until Princess is able to deliver.

Rob: And for companies like Melton that means hitting deadlines all around the nation.

Peterson: We call it just-in-time. As companies have reduced their inventories they rely more on trucks to be on time and so all of our trucks are satellite tracked so we know where they are at any given point and time. A driver’s day is, is a long one and a hard one. It’s exceptionally competitive for trucking companies and for hiring of truck drivers.

Rob: Which is why Melton has an entire staff of recruiters, hiring only one of every 200 applicants.

Peterson: My biggest business challenge today is finding safe, reliable truck drivers.

Rob: And he’s not alone.

Newport: The average age of the truck driver today seems to be moving more towards the late 40s and early 50s. So their longevity, particularly if you add in any health issues, and we hope not, their longevity is somewhat limited. So the recruitment of new drivers, flesh blood if you will, is a real challenge.

Peterson: So we’re looking for drug-free. We’re looking for safe driving records. We’re looking for dependability.

Donnalla: I would definitely say basic math, locating information, reading comprehension, those are all really important. But in addition to that, they also need good customer service skills because they’re in contact with our customers every time they bring a load. And I refer to them as life skills because there’s nothing soft about that. Good work ethic. Being dependable. Being responsible.

Peterson: Good truck drivers need to be patient. You know, if you can imagine driving an 80,000 pound rig in today’s traffic in the snow, you have to be patient. If you’re the typical guy that honks the horn every five seconds, you’re not gonna like being a truck driver.

Rob: Not to mention the hours.

Peterson: And the job is hard – you’re gone from home from two to three weeks. And how do you maintain a marriage and raise children and all that kind of thing?

Newport: So you can make good wages as a truck driver, it comes with some price, and that is time away from home. So that’s kind of a, that’s kind of a rub with family, and everybody knows it. So it’s not necessarily an easy life, but it pays well.

Rob: A life on the road that’s not for everyone and why some truckers choose to work for short-haul carriers, which takes us back to Princess Transport.

Chris Miller: What makes that so special to us is that we can provide jobs, truck driving jobs, here locally, in this area, and also come back the same day to where the driver is, is able to come home and, on a regular schedule instead of over-the-road trucking, which they’re out for two or three weeks. Our employees are here locally. They live here locally, and they get to come home every day. And so that’s, that’s a very a, that’s a very special thing.

Donnalla: They can take a load or two loads a day and be home in the evenings and on the weekends. Family is a huge focus for us, and we try to work with our owner/operators so that they can spend that quality time with their family in the evenings and on the weekends. And that’s worked out beautifully for us.

Rob: And earn a living that is more than $10,000 above the state’s median income.

Newport: The wages related to all of the trucking industry, that’s gonna be everybody -- truck drivers, shops, the whole bit -- is gonna be north of $3.2 billion with a “B” – billion – in the state of Oklahoma. That’s 2012’s statistics. So in order to keep that economy moving, we’re gonna need drivers.

Rob: Projections are the trucking industry will grow between 20 and 30 percent over the next 10 to 15 years.

Newport: Think about that. Think about the trucks that are on the road that you see right now today, and add roughly a third more. I’m rounding up, but if we say 30 percent, let’s add a third more in the next 10 years. That means consumer demand is still gonna grow. Hopefully the economy will grow with that to meet that demand, but that’s gonna mean more trucks on the road, more drivers, more jobs. So workforce is just a tremendous issue. Where do those people come from?

Rob: What could that mean for our infrastructure in terms of highways, bridges?

Newport: To give you a little bit of perspective, trucks and the trucking industry will pay, I’m rounding up, 40 percent of all road-use taxes. That’s 39 point something, so I round it up. They’ll pay 40 percent of all fees that are paid for infrastructure, yet they represent about 2 percent of the registered motoring public. We’re paying our fair share.

Rob: In fact, some trucking companies like Melton would even like to pay more.

Peterson: Actually our industry has been in favor of raising the diesel tax for years. The United States secretary of transportation was here with Sen. Inhofe, and I said, “Please raise my taxes.” Because the roads, in many cases, are terrible and so it’s two things: It is, it causes congestion, which adds to pollution which makes my drivers’ job less desirable, and it makes us slower in delivering our goods, and so we’re big behind infrastructure.

Newport: I’ll give kudos and credit to the state of Oklahoma. They actually started an aggressive infrastructure building process well over a decade ago now, and much of the nation has now been trying to follow that. So kudos to Oklahoma. We still have a long way to go, but we’re ahead of the curve nationally. So that’s a good thing and that is important, I’ll say it again, to the trucking industry and to all of us as consumers.

Rob: Now, it is possible that the funding formula for our roads and bridges could change this legislative session. In recent years, highway dollars for the Department of Transportation have come off the top, but with a billion dollar hole in the state budget, other infrastructure needs like education and health will all be competing for limited funding.

Rob: Now, if you’d like to learn more about how to co-exist with the big rigs on the road, I do have Bob Peterson’s best advice on keeping everyone safe streaming on our website. I also have a link to a story I did a couple of years back about how the fuel tax is not keeping up with inflation or technology and how that is taking a toll on our vehicles. Now, to see either one of those stories just head over to okhorizon.com and look for them under our value added section. Now, when we return, we’ll meet the people that keep the big rigs rolling.