Transport Topics Unveils 2014 List of Top 100 For-Hire Carriers

By Daniel P. Bearth, Senior Features Writer

This story appears in the July 14 print edition of Transport Topics.

The shortage of drivers is limiting the ability of many trucking companies to expand freight-hauling capacity and is a major factor behind an increase in the number of mergers and acquisitions, according to executives interviewed for the 2014 Transport Topics Top 100 list of U.S and Canadian for-hire carriers.

The inability to hire enough drivers also is forcing companies to try new approaches to recruiting and to spend more on training and retention programs.

LIVEONWEB: Top 100 livestream, July 15, noon EDT

“Customer demand is strong, and we could increase our fleet size another 300 to 400 tractors if we could find the drivers,” said Steve Williams, CEO  of Maverick USA, a flatbed and refrigerated truckload carrier in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Drivers need to be paid more, according to Doug Place, chief financial officer of Dupré Logistics, a tank truck carrier based in Lafayette, Louisiana. “We’re losing drivers to other higher-paying jobs,” he said.

CRST International, a truckload carrier based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opened two driver training schools, hired 40 additional recruiters and added 35 driver trainers to its staff, yet still finds it difficult to hire enough drivers to keep all of its trucks running.

“We can’t grow now because of drivers,” CEO Dave Rusch said.

Robert Ragan, CFO at Melton Truck Lines in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said his company is eyeing acquisitions “because we can’t grow organically.”

“A significant amount of freight is being turned down,” Ragan said.

To ease the shortage of drivers, some companies are trying harder to recruit women.

At Con-way Truckload in Joplin, Missouri, women are featured prominently in recruiting ads and brochures, including one that features Stephanie Klang, a member of the ATA Road Team.

Researchers also are working to make trucks more accessible for women, who make up only 6% of the labor force in trucking, according to Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking. The nonprofit group is working with university researchers and Ryder System to redesign truck cabs to fit women better.

Meanwhile, merger and acquisition activity in trucking continues to increase, with regional truckload carrier Heartland Express (No. 33), auto hauler Jack Cooper Holdings (No. 37) and KLLM Transport Services (No. 42) making significant moves on the Top 100 list by buying up competing firms.

Two relative newcomers also are making a splash with acquisitions. Don Daseke, an investor who once headed a large publicly owned real estate investment trust, has acquired five flatbed carriers since 2008, including Boyd Bros. Transportation in 2013. Daseke Inc. makes its first appearance on the Top 100 at No. 59.

Tim Engle, president of Saltchuk Resources, a Seattle-based company with extensive holdings in maritime transportation and fuel distribution, said his company is looking to expand in trucking after its takeover of truckload carrier Interstate Distributor Co. in 2011 and the purchase of Carlile Transportation of Anchorage, Alaska, in 2013.

“We’re comfortable owning and operating capital-intensive businesses,” Engle said.