Behind the wheel: Washington County trucking firms cope with driver shortage | Local News

Jim Ward smiles when he talks about business these days.

“Business is pretty good,” said Ward, president and chief executive officer of D.M. Bowman Inc. “Last year was a respectable year, 2015 was a very good year, and this year is even a little better than last year.”

Bowman, based in Williamsport, employs nearly 500 truck drivers and provides logistics through a swath of the nation east of the Mississippi River. Businesses need “the right products at the right place at the right time at the right price,” he said, and Bowman and its competitors vie to provide that service.

“We want to grow,” he added, and the major challenge to that growth is the same for many similar companies.

“The big constraint to our industry for expansion right now is really the labor force. … We could literally put in place and work every day, at a full-time level, 30 to 40 driver associates right now,” Ward said.

In their first year, a typical Bowman driver might make $38,000 to $42,000, Ward added.

Trucking companies like Bowman, training facilities like the Commercial Vehicle Transportation program at Hagerstown Community College and business consultants are all working to put drivers into those positions.

‘The problem is bigger’

Going into this year, the nation faced a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers. And that number is expected to reach 160,000 by 2022, according to figures tracked by Becky Willard, owner of Beacon Grace consulting firm in Hagerstown.

Willard said there are several reasons for the shortfall. Drivers in the baby boom generation are retiring, and fewer trained and qualified drivers are in the pipeline.

The industry also is plagued by high turnover rates. Meanwhile, the lifestyle of a trucker on the road, sometimes far from home with irregular hours, is off-putting to some, she said.

“I think the problem is bigger than what is being reported,” she said.

Some estimates don’t fully account for the impact of e-commerce, Willard said. Consider that Walmart’s e-commerce sales rose by 63 percent in the first quarter of 2017, and that Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods in June could lead to more online sales of groceries.

The expansion of the Port of Baltimore, announced in May, will bring a need for more local and regional drivers, she said.

Federal regulations also figure into Willard’s calculations. Later this…

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