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Ohio Losing More Jobs in Trucking than Auto Manufacturing

The impact of the economic decline on auto industry jobs in Ohio is well documented, but the slowdown is taking even more jobs in the trucking industry. jobs for long haul truckers and others in the industry disappeared last year at one of the highest rates in history.

Lewis Pugh, 35, is an owner/operator of a 2007 International Harvester 9900ix Eagle truck with a flatbed aluminum trailer. He travels from his home in Freeport in eastern Ohio to New York City, New Jersey and Maryland. And he sees first hand the results of slowdowns at factories and refineries. From home, Pugh checks a load board to see what is available and finds the pickings slim.

"Until all this started happening four or five months ago," says Pugh, "there used to be between 100 and 200 loads a day to pick from of freight. Last week I was looking, and there was 16 loads."

The American Transportation Research Institute says nearly 360,000 jobs are part of the trucking industry in Ohio, one out of every 15 jobs in the state. American Trucking Association Chief Economist Bob Costello says, nationally, the number of jobs in the trucking industry last year dropped by 5 percent.

Costello describes fleet owners as being in "survival mode." He says they are cutting jobs to ride out the fluctuations in fuel costs and freight availability. The cost of diesel fuel - a problem earlier in 2008 - leveled off during the second half of the year. At the same time, though, freight tonnage plummeted, and Costello says trucking companies started going out of business.

"Over 3,000 fleets went out of business in 2008. That's the third highest annual number on record," he says.

Larry Davis is president of the one thousand member Ohio Trucking Association. He says when factories are running, truckers have multiple opportunities to make money.

"We haul raw material to factory, away from factory, to the next processing place, to the end seller. We haul things three or four times. But things have been in such decline."

Davis says in the 17 years he's been with the Ohio Trucking Association, the biggest issue was always finding drivers willing to deal with a tough lifestyle. Turnover at some large trucking companies was 120 percent per year as drivers moved from one job to another in search of higher pay or longer periods of time at home. But that's all changed. Today, Davis says, drivers are just thankful to have a job.

Davis says the $800 billion economic stimulus package making its way through Congress could provide a big boost to the trucking industry, specifically improvements to infrastructure.

Trucking economist Bob Costello agrees, to a point.

"The infrastructure investment would help spur some freight," he says, "there's no doubt about that. It doesn't save the day, though. "

Truck owner/operator Lewis Pugh is skeptical about the stimulus package. He thinks there might be a lot of pork wrapped up in it. Pugh is also opposed on principle.

"I believe more in a capitalistic view of survival of the fittest," he says. "Businesses have to fail, unfortunately, just like the trucking. We can't just bail everybody out."

Pugh says he is used to hard work. He grew up on a farm in eastern Ohio, went into the Army and learned to drive a truck. He started driving over the road when he was legally old enough - 21. The next year, he bought his first rig. After nearly 14 years as an owner/operator, Pugh considers himself a pretty good businessperson. He has saved up working capital to survive the hard times

Still, he wonders. "You never know what can happen. One bad thing, and you're outta business tomorrow."