If America runs on trucking, then so does Kevin Burch, president of Dayton truckload carrier Jet Express Inc.
Burch, 60, has been around the block more than once, and Dayton Daily News readers may remember him as a dependable voice in stories on trucking, logistics and transportation issues. There are reasons for that. He’s not just a trucking executive. He earned his commercial driver’s license (CDL) in 2008. He knows what it means to drive what truckers sometimes call the “large car.”
For 42 years, Burch has worked in trucking, starting as third-shift billing clerk and dispatcher in 1973. Today, he has something of a national role in the industry, serving as a vice chairman for the American Trucking Association advocacy group. He expects to be ATA chairman in 2016-17.
Burch has his eye on issues that affect everyone who depend on trucking — which is all of us. We sat down with him recently, and what follows is edited and condensed.
Q: You just got back from Clark State Community College, where you spoke with students about trucking. Finding new drivers is an ever-present concern for you, isn’t it?
Burch: “There’s a drivers’ shortage. There’s a huge drivers’ shortage going on in this industry. And 96,000 drivers a year is what we (the trucking industry) need. When you talk about a ‘million man march,’ we need a million drivers in 10 years.
“I’ve got Power Points (presentations) on it; I’ve been driving the country talking about it here … Over 70 percent of goods are handled by a truck at one time or another. You made a comment about a button I wear that says, ‘I love trucks.’ I wear it everywhere but to bed. I tell you why I say that: It’s a conversation-starter … It’s about communication, education and knowledge.”
Q: What do you wish people understood about trucking?
Burch: “The statistics that we go out on the road and talk about — one out of 16 Americans are involved in trucking. Does that surprise you? One out of 16. There are 3.2 million CDL holders in the United States. There are seven million people involved in our industry. That’s the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), that’s the Peterbilts, that’s the freight liners, that’s the Mack trucks, that’s the Volvos, the truck stops. It’s the fuel people. It’s the filter people. It’s the brake people.
“We did a celebration here, an awards (ceremony) for drivers. We brought all of our suppliers in. And we announced everybody we do business with in Dayton, Ohio. We asked the suppliers who were invited to stand and remain standing. And guess what? It was the refuse people, it was the people who take the oil away, it was the trailer manufacturer, it was the truck manufacturer, it was the envelopes and business supplies … We had 100 people in the room, and 90 of them were standing.”
Q: What is the trucking industry’s turnover rate so high? It’s not an easy way to make a living.
Burch: “Eighty percent of all trucking companies are 20 trucks or less. We think of the big guys out there, but there are a lot of other trucking companies. What happens is, there are no two companies the same …
“Everyone has a little different character, whether they’re home at night or not. That’s why we have this churning … Some trucking companies don’t treat drivers well, and that’s where that recruiting and retention come in. It’s like a hand in a glove. You have to have both …
“A smart company will have as many options (for drivers) as we have here. We have local (routes) where we never leave Montgomery County. We have (routes) where we never leave Ohio. We have the tri-state — Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. And we have the longer haul, where you go to Texas or Kansas City.”
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