We are introducing our TTA Executive Digest. As you read through the information, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any ideas or suggestions.
As we roll into the 3rd quarter of 2021, I think back on how this year has progressed. Last year was a year that I am sure no one would want to repeat. One of the best things that came out of the pandemic was something that we have known for years, how important our drivers are to the economy!
We were very fortunate to have a great team in place when the pandemic hit. Even though most of our events were canceled, we were able to financially sustain ourselves due to a creative staff and wonderful members. This year is seeing States reopen and people are traveling again. Our economy is booming and it is expected to continue into 2022.
Our industry is experiencing one of the worst driver shortages in history. It is certainly a challenge for our carrier members to get qualified drivers. Our members are reporting they have trucks sitting and freight volumes beyond capacity. We as an industry have to think outside the box to attract qualified drivers. How do we do that? More and more members are discussing starting driver training programs. Some companies are increasing pay and adding sign-on bonuses. The driver shortage the companies are now facing emphasizes the importance of driver retention.
Our great State is experiencing phenomenal growth. It will be interesting to see the 2020 census when it is released. Right now, our population is estimated at 6.9 million. The housing market is booming. Houses are being sold for more than the appraised value. The prices of goods are continuing to rise. People are spending money and live events are on the return. Governor Bill Lee invited country music fans to set a new Nissan Stadium attendance record at Garth Brooks’ concert on July 31 and to include the Volunteer State in summer travel plans.
On April 27th Governor Lee announced the end of statewide public health orders and signed Executive Order 80 to address economic and regulatory functions. EO 80 also ended the local authority to issue mask requirements in the 89 counties directed by the state health department.
“COVID-19 is now a managed public health issue in Tennessee and no longer a statewide public health emergency,” said Gov. Lee. “As Tennesseans continue to get vaccinated, it’s time to lift remaining local restrictions, focus on economic recovery and get back to business in Tennessee.”
On April 29 Governor Lee announced the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget had passed the General Assembly. The budget totals $42.6 billion. $79 million was allocated to eliminate the 11,400 person TCAT waiting list. Hopefully, this will help to prepare students for the backlog of vast career opportunities in Tennessee.
Governor Lee announced on May 11th that we will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state. The Federal pandemic unemployment programs are set to expire on July 3.
On May 11th the Hernando de Soto I-40 Memphis bridge that joins Tennessee and Arkansas was closed completely to all traffic when a crack was discovered. We have been working closely with TDOT to keep our members apprised of the progress and reopening date of the bridge.
The Greater Memphis Chamber hosted a meeting on May 20th with Stephanie Pollack, Federal Highway Administration Acting Administrator, along with TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright and ArDOT Director Lorie Tudor. The Tennessee Trucking Association, Arkansas Trucking Association, and Industry stakeholders were invited to attend. Stephanie led the discussion by stating "I am here to listen and to learn and make sure that people know that they have a partner in the Federal Highway Administration," Pollack said. "I'm introducing our local personnel to folks here so that as we all continue to work together for weeks, and probably a few months until we get to that point where we can safely open the bridge." With almost 30 leaders present, Administrator Pollack got to hear firsthand how the shutdown of the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge is impacting their business. She learned more about the critical nature of the shutdown and the immediate need to get the bridge fixed. Several leaders mentioned how important it was to have a third bridge. The third bridge has been discussed for at least 15 years. The failure of this bridge has brought this back to the forefront. Members of ours in attendance were Joel Henry, IMC companies, Kent Long, Mid South Transport, Inc., Hub Group, Mike Lathum, Wooten Transports, Inc., William Dunavant III, Dunavant Enterprises, and FedEx.
On June 3rd, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Memphis. FedEx hosted a roundtable discussion with President and COO Raj Subramaniam welcoming us with his opening remarks. Shannon Samples Newton, Arkansas Trucking Association, Jason Higginbotham, Ozark Motor Lines, and I were on the panel, which also included Senator Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Mark Cohen. The discussion was led by Stephanie Pollack. The event focused on how the I-40 bridge closure is affecting transportation and the importance of investing in the country's infrastructure. We need more money invested in infrastructure, if we don’t invest in our infrastructure now, we are going to see issues like this happen in more and more states. Buttigieg said, "I appreciate very much the insights here and as we continue to seek to support the states in resolving this as quickly and safely as they possibly can, we are going to be here every step of the way."
After the roundtable discussion, Buttigieg toured the closed Hernando de Soto Bridge worksite following the event. Buttigieg said this visit helped him realize how crucial the I-40 bridge is. “Safety is at the heart of what’s happened at the DeSoto Bridge. The closure has been challenging and costly. I wanted to make sure to be here to emphasize that we often have a single piece of infrastructure in a single place that really influences the life of the entire country when it’s not available or diminished,” he said.
TDOT has completed phase one of the bridge repair and is working on phase two. They have said that they were hoping to have phase two completed by late July or early August. TDOT has done an exceptional job keeping the motoring public up to date on the closure and traffic conditions. Your drivers and driver managers can visit the TDOT website to learn more.
Our President Dave Huneryager met with Commissioner Long and CDL Director Gregory about CDL testing. It was agreed that safety is everyone’s top priority. They committed to developing a working group to help assist in advancing CDL testing. We had our first meeting on June 24th. We were joined by Senator Paul Bailey, Representative Pat Marsh, Representative Tandy Darby, Tim Gregory, Director of Commercial Driver License, Elizabeth Stroecker, Director of Legislation & Assistant General Counsel, Commissioner Long's Office, and Perry Wilson, McKee Foods Transportation, LLC. We had a great first meeting and covered 8 key points.
- 7 day waiting period to retake the knowledge test
- New Entry Level Driver Training Rules
- Test Banking
- SPE Certifications & Federal Waivers
- Outside skills testing with a Third Party Tester
- Outside of Tennessee license skills testing
- Need for more CDL examiners and timely testing drivers
- Expense of a duplicate Class D license when you get a permit and have a new address.
We are planning on meeting again soon to continue the conversations.
As we look to the future, I would like to thank Dale Allen and the government relations team with Adams and Reese LLP. They have been working diligently this year to keep our members up to date on Tennessee legislative challenges. The updates can be found on our website under Association/Legislative. We look forward to more updates this Fall.
The Young Professional Council is working hard to support McGavock High School’s new diesel technician program, which will open in their Transportation Academy this September. Cummins Inc. launched its first Technical Education for Communities initiative in the United States, in conjunction with 10 Memphis, Tennessee area education and industry partners. Cummins’ partners are FedEx Freight, General Truck Sales and Service Inc., Memphis Area Transit Authority, Ozark Motor Lines Inc., Penske Truck Leasing Co., Peterbilt Truck Centers, TAG Truck Center, Tri-State Truck Center, and Summit Truck Group. We are thrilled that Tennessee will have two high schools with diesel technician programs soon and hope this will expand in the future. I hope you can attend the Powering the Future Event, and/or become a partner in this great program. We need diesel technicians just like we need drivers!
We have a long road ahead trying to keep up with our ever-changing landscape. Always remember the TTA Staff is here for you!