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November 2, 2021 5:45 PM, EDT

Perspective: It’s Time to Tell Our Stories

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Being part of an association is about getting involved, and one of the easiest ways to get involved with a group is to tell your story. I think about that because the story of my journey to becoming chairman of American Trucking Associations isn’t all that different from most of your stories.

I got involved in trucking more than 40 years ago because my father did. He started to work for our company — J&M Tank Lines — in 1960, and shortly after I began to work there, he became the sole shareholder and it truly became the family business. Today, we run 420 trucks all around the Southeast — something that our family is really proud of.

That story, starting small and growing a family business into something great, is a common one in this industry. It is my predecessor Sherri Garner Brumbaugh’s story, and it is the story of so many ATA members and companies in this industry.

Telling our story is key to advancing trucking’s agenda with ATA. There are so many big things on the horizon — continued uncertainty around COVID, the driver shortage, our need for infrastructure investment, threats to our industry’s independent contractor model and more. It is a big menu of challenges.

Sumerford

Sumerford

Being a participant in these debates and engaging with our elected leaders and policy is key to making sure we are reading the menu, rather than being on the menu.

That engagement just can’t be standing up and saying ‘No!’ As truckers, we know how roadblocks impede progress. They keep us from our destinations and delay progress. We need to work with those who will work with us, regardless of their political affiliation, to move our agenda forward.

That agenda has to include making sure that whatever infrastructure measures are passed are implemented in the right way. It has to include finding ways to develop our future workforce and retain our current workforce. It means working to protect ourselves from frivolous lawsuits and changes to our independent contractor model. It is a lot. However, our industry is used to not just dealing with big challenges, but also overcoming them.

We saw last year when the rest of the country shut down, our drivers geared up. In my little corner of trucking, we saw it when the Colonial Pipeline was hacked, and our drivers geared up and got the job done.

Getting the job done means everyone doing their part — and I’m so honored and humbled to be doing my part as chairman, just as I did when I was chairman of the Georgia Motor Truck Association and the National Tank Truck Carriers. But you don’t have to be chairman to do your part.

Join and support ATA and your state trucking associations. Support the industry’s efforts like the American Transportation Research Institute, the Trucking Cares Foundation and TruckPAC. Donate to our image campaign Trucking Moves America Forward and support our ongoing legal efforts through the ATA Litigation Center.

Get your employees involved in councils like the Technology & Maintenance Council, or with LEAD ATA. Come to Washington, D.C., with the Call on Washington program, or better yet, help ATA engage with your elected officials in their districts.

Coming together is the best way to move trucking forward. As we have seen time and time again, when we are aligned as an industry and all on the same page, we can achieve great things.

Being engaged, telling your story — that is how we strengthen this industry and association. It is what I’m challenging my fellow ATA members to do, to put in the work to achieve the goals we have set.

I am grateful to be entering this year as ATA chairman. It is a tremendous honor, and one I didn’t accept lightly. I am committed to doing my best, telling my story — and ATA’s story — on the way to continued growth and success.

Harold Sumerford Jr. is CEO of Birmingham, Ala.-based J&M Tank Lines.

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