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Trucking Execs Tell Boccieri Industry’s Challenges

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POLAND, Ohio – The owners of Acme Co. Trucking say their industry faces challenges that range from burdensome regulations to a lack of drivers.

An effort to address at least one of those challenges – the shortage of workers — was the main topic of a news conference where fourth-generation Acme owners Daniel Zarlenga and Adam Lonardo spoke Thursday with state Rep. John Boccieri.

Acme hauls aggregate materials for road construction, and construction waste materials.

The trucking industry faces a projected shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2024, Boccieri, D-59 Poland, told reporters following a roundtable with industry representatives. “That is affecting and permeating every layer of industry in the United States,” he said, “from folks who need the mineral aggregates to help repave roads and bridges to making sure that our groceries are delivered on time and making sure that our school clothes arrive on time for our kids to get back to school.”

Aggravating the shortage is the growth of online shopping, necessitating more delivery trucks. “That is creating a bit of a strain,” Boccieri said.

Among the state initiatives to help address the shortage of drivers is a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that would offset the cost of obtaining a commercial driver’s license. Obtaining a CDL in Ohio costs about $6,500, said Tom Belzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association.

The legislation, Boccieri said, would provide grants of $2,500 grants and loans of $2,500 per student taking CDL classes and provide $3 million in tax incentives for Ohio trucking companies. It would also set up a pilot program to study why young adults are not entering the trucking field.

Funding to reimburse students for CDL training is available through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Funds. But that initiative reimburses students for training they’ve paid for while the proposed state legislation would provide funding at the onset of their training.

“We’ve had really bad problems with turnover rates and keeping our trucks full to serve our customers,” Zarlenga said. Candidates who would make good drivers would rather go to college, he suggested.

Today, only six of his company’s 35 drivers have been with Acme two years or longer. That’s a drastic turnaround from the time he started with the company 10 years ago, when the majority of the drivers had been there at least five years.

In some cases, drivers show up only for a day, possibly to confirm to the unemployment office that they’ve been looking for work so they can maintain their benefits, he said.

“Truck driving is not looked at as a glamorous career,” Lonardo said. “We want to change that.”

Trucks move more than 95% of the nation’s freight, he pointed out. “We have so many people unemployed in this area specifically, yet within a 25-mile radius there’s almost 800 driving jobs,” he added.

Acme drivers make $17 to $22 per hour.

“And we have the dream truck-driving job – home every night. You see your family,” Zarlenga remarked. “Nobody wants to go over the road. Over-the-road pays twice what we pay, but it’s not worth it to them. It’s not worth having the money if you’re over the road all the time.”

Trucking companies are looking at various ways to encourage people to become truck drivers or remain in the industry, the Ohio Trucking Association’s Belzer said. One is a shift toward regional carriers, so truckers “aren’t making these hauls from New York to Los Angeles,” he continued. Other carriers are offering a guaranteed minimum pay for the week, regardless of distance driven.

One issue trucking companies face in recruiting younger drivers is insurance companies’ reluctance to cover drivers ages 18 to 25. Drivers younger than 25 can drive trucks without an increase in premiums but once they cross the state line, rates go up “exponentially,” Zarlenga said.

Legislation has been introduced to create a study committee to look at reducing insurance costs for drivers in the 18 to 25 demographic, Boccieri said.

Other issues drivers and trucking companies face is what they consider overregulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and weights, Lonardo said.

Pictured above: Daniel Zarlenga, state Rep. John Boccieri and Adam Lonardo meet with reporters following a roundtable discussion at Acme Co.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.