GULFPORT, MS - Sad as it may be, one of America's leading exports has become jobs. To satisfy investors, Corporate America is outsourcing hundreds of thousands of jobs in order to cut expenses and keep profits rolling in. Customer Service has moved to the Philippines, loan processing to India and manufacturing to China.
It may be the irony of all ironies. We export jobs overseas to boost domestic profits. But when we cut our workforce we diminish the consumer base and the consumer's ability to consume. Less consumption leads to lower sales, less profits and further motivation to cut even more jobs. It's like a snake eating its own tail. Eventually, the snake bites off its own head.
The trucking industry is different. By some reports, the trucking industry is suffering from a shortage of 200,000 drivers. A growing population and a 15-percent increase in online commerce is simply creating more freight than the current supply of drivers can haul. The result is, higher freight costs are putting the brakes on economic recovery.
It seems like an easy problem to solve but when we asked Louis Normand, CEO of the National Truck Funding, why not just hire more drivers? Normand responded saying, "it's gotten to the point where it's more cost effective for big fleet managers to contract with owner operators than it is to take on drivers as employees." He went on to say, "That's a real problem."
In this era of tight money and strict lending regulations, it is nearly impossible for a would-be driver to get a big rig financed. New, these rigs can run in excess of $125,000 and a good previously-owned rig for less than $50,000 is rare. In either case, both are tough to get the bank to lend against.
Enter American Truck Group. Twelve years ago, Normand, then one of Mississippi's larger big truck dealers, set out to deal with this problem. He said, "I decided if I couldn't sell them a truck I would rent them one." Twelve years later, Normand operates the largest rental with purchase option trucking fleet in the country called National Truck Funding.
With numbers 500 strong and a newly expanded infrastructure to immediately accommodate 700 more trucks, Normand says, "the rental with purchase option model could easily expand. Now it's just a matter of establishing partnerships with other sales and service facilities around the country to expedite the strategy." He went on to say, "the model is proven, the model works and with the right partnerships in place, there's no reason the rental with purchase option model can't one day put 100,000 new drivers and rigs on the road."
When asked what the biggest obstacle is to overcome now, Normand said, "It's still money. Someone has to own the mortgage on the truck." Because the rental with purchase option model doesn't fit a typical commercial loan profile, the regulation-riddled commercial lending industry is less than accommodating. But Normand says, "it didn't stop me from getting this far and won't stop me from going further." Having patched together some private lending sources and smaller lines of credit from local banks, National Truck Funding is prepared to grow at a rate the money supply permits. "I can be patient," he said. "Last I heard, you can't outsource a truck driving job."