Special Coverage



ATA Leadership Officially Opens Doors to Annual Conference

ATA President Chris Spear cuts the ribbon to open the MCE Exhibit Hall
ATA President Chris Spear (center) cuts the ribbon, marking the official opening of the exhibit hall for 2021 MCE. He's flanked by Chairman Sherri Garner Brumbaugh and incoming Chairman Harold Sumerford Jr. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Surrounded by trucking industry executives and insiders near the main entrance of the Music City Center exhibit hall here, the leadership of American Trucking Associations hosted a ceremonial ribbon cutting Oct. 24.

The celebratory practice marked the de facto start of ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition, held this year in the home of the country music industry.

Attendees proceeded to embrace the opportunity to interact with vendors and suppliers from nearly every aspect of the industry.

ATA President Chris Spear told Transport Topics that hosting this in-person event marked “a return to normality.” Such in-person interaction was not possible during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, when ATA held the annual event virtually.

“There’s only so much you can accomplish in our industry virtually. And we miss the interaction. And this provides this: This venue provides the opportunity to come together and really understand what, not only our industry is about, but what are the emerging technologies, products that are available to make our industry safer, more productive. This is where that happens,” said Spear.

Industry stakeholders who spent more time at home during the height of the COVID-19 era relied on virtual conferences for business communications. Yet, while the pandemic led to a monthslong shutdown of in-person operations at the office, it magnified the significance of large gatherings, Spear noted.

Ideally, corporate meetings and conferences will remain in-person forums for colleagues, clients and backers, he observed: “I’m very confident that events like these are very impactful. We’ve held the line throughout COVID, now we got to get back to growth. And you can’t grow over a computer. You got to be here live. You got to interact. And that’s our industry. It just feels great to be back in that rhythm.”

For emphasis, Spear added: “I do feel this is going to be a very successful venue.”

ATA Chairman and Garner Trucking CEO Sherri Garner Brumbaugh echoed Spear’s sentiment, emphasizing that a return to in-person programming will further help stakeholders shape the industry’s future. With the lifting of certain restrictions, attendees appeared to take in ATA’s MCE venue, similar to pre-pandemic ways.

“It’s great to be back in person at MCE with all us truckers across the country,” Garner Brumbaugh told TT. “There are going to be so many vendors helping us with our businesses and making our jobs easier: technology, pieces and parts, trucks, trailers. It’s going to be great.”

Notably, Garner Brumbaugh pointed to a real motivator for attendees. Celebrating the industry’s contributions to the national economy merits a formal setting. “We’re here for America. We’re here to improve the supply chain. We’re part of the supply chain. We’re proud of what we do. We’re proud of our truck drivers, and we’re proud of the industry,” she said.

To complement the massive exhibit hall, the conference features panel discussions ranging from freight concerns that were amplified by the pandemic to strategies for ameliorating supply chain issues.

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