Editorial: A Matter of Perspective

Any artist will tell you that perspective matters when looking at a picture. A survey of the financial picture for industries that affect trucking, which was presented at an economic conference last week, is no different.

Attendees of the inaugural American Trucking Associations Economic Summit in Arlington, Va., on July 19-20 heard from experts operating in sectors that directly affect and are affected by transportation. Which gives them some unique perspective on how their businesses, and the business of trucking, may evolve.

For example, consumers’ dining habits have changed over the years, which can affect what and how much is delivered to restaurants versus grocery stores. An executive from the National Restaurant Association noted that the amount of food being consumed in restaurants has nearly doubled between last year and 1995.

But while dining habits have shifted dramatically, representatives from the National Automobile Dealers Association and the National Association of Realtors said that a look at historic trends suggests that millennials’ ballyhooed aversion to owning cars and homes will evaporate once they — as generations have before — get married, have children and abandon the cocoon of downtown urban life for the more expansive trappings of suburban living. Bottom line: Once they’re in the ’burbs, they’ll need something to drive. This group’s shift in car ownership could begin as soon as 2020, when many in this population group start reaching their 30th birthday, NADA’s Steven Szakaly said.

And they’re already moving, NAR’s Danielle Hale said, noting that household formation has come back in line with historic trends since the end of the Great Recession.

In the meantime, ATA President Chris Spear told trucking executives at the conference that their businesses will more immediately benefit from activity on Capitol Hill in the form of tax reform; something he described as the “catalyst” for where motor carriers want to and could grow. “If it’s passed, that’s money in your pocket,” he said.

Tax reform is next up on the Congressional agenda, and that could be good for trucking.

Just as historic perspective informs the outlook for millennials’ predictable migration to the suburbs, and their need for vehicles large enough to cart the kids to soccer practice, history suggests that Congress and the White House will hold countless debates and struggle mightily before they settle on significant tax reform legislation.

Lawmakers always could surprise us, and let’s hope they do, because history provides a different perspective.