When trucking officials gather at the annual American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin, Texas, Oct. 27-30, the major theme they will hear is how the industry can work together nationally and locally to promote trucking.
“In 2018, we really want to underscore the federation and the importance of unity,” ATA President Chris Spear said in an interview with Transport Topics, noting that working together has helped ATA this year mark a milestone. “The emphasis of strength of the federation — 85 years of representing 50 state associations at the national level,” Spear said.
Attendees walk the MCE 2017 exhibit floor in Orlando, Fla. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Spear will discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the industry during his state of the industry address Oct. 29. He said this MCE will highlight many of the areas where the trucking industry can continue to make inroads in state capitals across the country.
“We’re seeing a lot of policy-making occurring at the state level,” he said.
Spear also pointed out that this year’s keynote speaker at the ATA Advocacy Luncheon on Oct. 29 is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, whose family has ties to the trucking industry through its ownership of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. As governor, Haslam has emphasized the need for infrastructure improvements.
“His is a state that has had a great interest in trade,” Spear said. “I think he brings a perspective that is shared by many governors — regardless of party — on what is happening at the state level. That speaks to our federation and leveraging the strength of the federation and the importance of unity.”
On Oct. 28, ATA and the American Transportation Research Institute will lead a discussion called “The Cost of Doing Nothing — Why We Need Infrastructure Investment Now.”
The Trump Administration has proposed a $1.5 trillion program to rebuild the country’s crumbling highways, roads, bridges and airports. However, the proposal includes just $200 billion in federal funding, with the private sector providing the balance.
The White House has held several events to promote the need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, but the issue has gained little traction in Congress.
Attendees at the show also will hear from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Ray Martinez, who is slated to speak on Oct. 27. In the past 10 months, FMCSA has navigated the industry’s transition to electronic logging for drivers’ hours of service and now is taking public comments as it considers changes to HOS regulations.
Meanwhile, the industry continues to grapple with a driver shortage and high rates of turnover.
A recent ATA report showed driver turnover at large truckload fleets during the second quarter increased by 4% year-over-year to 98%. Dozens of companies have raised driver pay and continue to offer lucrative bonuses to recruit or retain drivers, while others offer drivers and their families full college tuition, employee stock ownership programs and more.
A view of the MCE 2017 exhibit floor in Orlando, Fla. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
“Workforce development is, without question — because the economy is so strong — it’s brought to the surface some of the challenges we have known about for a long time,” Spear said. “But it’s amplified by the strong economy and the increased demand being put on the industry to move freight. If you’re not going to add weight and you’re not going to add length, you have to add more trucks. If you add more trucks you’re going to need more drivers. It’s just that simple. And where are they going to come from? We have to be discussing that now, not in five, 10, 15 years from now.”
Besides the exhibition show floor at the Austin Convention Center, several educational sessions will be held on issues facing the trucking industry. Topics include driver recruiting, the move toward blockchain and HOS issues.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform at the MCE closing reception and banquet on Oct. 30. The band is known for its signature song, “Freebird,” along with hits “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”