State of Trucking: Outlook good, beware of political ‘mischief’

State of Trucking: Outlook good, beware of political ‘mischief’

PHILADELPHIA. The long-term outlook for trucking is “great,” while for the present and for the next year it’s “pretty good” and getting better, American Trucking Assns. President and CEO Bill Graves says—but there’s a catch: Continued “disarray” in Washington puts the economy and business at risk.

Graves’s remarks came during his annual “State of Trucking” address at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition being held here this week.

In the big picture, a growing nation will mean growing freight volumes for decades to come.

“It still comes down to simple math: More people equals more stuff,” Graves said. “And while the other freight modal partners will continue to play supporting roles in moving this economy, the star of the show has been, is, and will be the truck. I see no scenario, no outcome on the horizon that is anything but great for this industry.”

He also called safe operations “a moral imperative” that has a bottom line payoff for carriers.

“Safety first, safety second, and safety third—because if you cannot deliver on that commitment you have no business trying to deliver freight,” Graves said.

But much of the speech revolved around politics.

“Most carriers had a pretty good year—not great, but pretty good—in 2015. And 2016 is looking as good if not slightly better. If there’s a bogeyman that we need to be concerned about, look no farther than Washington as the disarray within the House of Representatives could lead to all sorts of negative outcomes, unintended consequences and mischief for our economy,” Graves said. “It seems truly ironic that given all the turmoil that exist throughout the world, that the single biggest threat we may face is our own government.”

Graves, a former Republican governor of Kansas, was nonpartisan in his critique—though he expressed particular dismay with presidential candidates in campaigning to build personal brands rather than to lead the nation.

“Government is not the enemy. Unfocused, unresponsive government is the enemy. Sloppy, wasteful government is the enemy. Overreaching, underperforming government is the enemy,” Graves said. “And the problem I think we face as a nation is the growing trend of people running for President who don’t have the skill set to manage their way out of a paper bag. So failing that, they simply rail against government and promise to make it smaller or conversely placate those who want government to do everything for everybody.”

And it’s a good thing that, even as the voting public may already be exhausted by campaign coverage, the election is still a year away, he suggested.

“I believe the stakes are too high to risk getting it wrong. You are engaged in a vitally important industry that moves the majority of the freight that defines the U.S. economy and shapes the world,” Graves said. “Whether you like it or not, our political leaders have enormous influence through their actions, on whether you will be successful or not; whether the next generation of your family will be better off than you are; whether the country will continue to hold its position as the leading nation amongst free nations.

“This election will have a lot to do with the answers to those questions and I urge you to invest thoughtful time in what the outcome should be.”

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