On The Road To Growth

January 22, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Truck transportation, couriers and messengers, and warehousing and storage became a nearly $3 billion industry nationwide in 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this month.

U.S. truck transportation bounced back from a slow start in the new millennium to post double-digit revenue increases. Despite Michigan's dismal economy, local industry executives say their companies have enjoyed a piece of that growth, as well.

"Yes, we have," said Dick Wickard, president of Columbian Logistics Network. "I truly believe lots of companies that sell, make, retail or produce something really found that with touching items, packing, just-in-time delivery, it's better to outsource it and make a partnership. That has given us a great growth opportunity."

At Classic Transportation, growth is in the double-digits, said President Larry Benton.

"We're seeing very steady growth here," Benton said. "Most of the growth we're seeing is from the transportation side."

The biggest challenge of the growing industry is finding enough qualified drivers with good safety records, he added.

The Census Bureau's data was collected in the 2005 Service Annual Survey. It does not cover private motor carriers operated as a part of a non-transportation company.

Truck transportation occupies the lion's share of revenues in the industry at $206 billion, up 11 percent over 2004. General freight trucking comprises the bulk of that segment at $139 billion, a 9 percent increase from 2004. Specialized freight trucking — including flatbeds, tankers and refrigerated trailers — was estimated at $67.5 billion. Revenues in long-distance freight trucking jumped 11.2 percent to $117 billion. Moving companies, the used household and office goods categories had their best year since 2000, reporting revenues at $15 billion.

Greg Wing, COO of Powell Relocation Group in Grand Rapids, said his firm had record years in 2005 and 2006, with business up about 20 percent in each year. Powell Relocation services all types of moving needs and specializes in corporate-paid moves, which Wing identified as a growth area.

"We happen to have very good customers who are going great guns right now," he said.

United Van Lines' annual migration study, released last week, showed Michigan tied with North Dakota at 66 percent of movers leaving the state last year. The study analyzed more than a quarter-million interstate moves handled by United in 2006. The top destination state was North Carolina

General Manager Gary Steensma said the Grand Rapids location of Corrigan Moving Systems saw business up about 25 percent in 2006 over 2005, with special commodities transportation and corporate relocations the leaders. Corrigan Moving is a United agent.

"What's not growing is the local residential moving within the Grand Rapids area," Steensma said. While a few of the outbound movers are retirees looking for warmer climates, most are people who've lost jobs and are casting their lots elsewhere, he said.

Moves paid for by local homeowners are way down at Powell, Wing added, reflecting the sinking residential real estate business.

The couriers and messengers category showed 6.7 percent revenue growth over 2004, led by the couriers section at 7.3 percent. The only section showing sinking revenues was local messengers and local delivery, which has dropped 9 percent since 2000.

Warehousing and storage revenues moved up to $19 billion, from nearly $18 billion in 2004. The "other" category led revenue growth at 25 percent, but farm product warehousing and storage saw a gain of 12 percent to $773 million, after an off year in 2004.

As revenues increased in 2005, so did the cost of doing business. Payroll for the entire transportation industry grew 6.4 percent to $5.1 billion in 2005; fringe benefits spending rose 5.7 percent. With introduction of new technology a big trend in the industry, software expenditures expanded 8 percent to above $2 billion. Government licenses and fees costs also jumped 8 percent, but fuel expenditures were 9 percent higher in 2005 than in 2004.

Some 8,322 people were employed in transportation and warehousing in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming Metropolitan Statistical Area in the first quarter of 2006, the state Department of Labor & Economic Growth reported. Their average weekly wage was $723.

U.S. Revenue Percent Change

    2004-05      2003-04      2002-03      2001-02
Truck Transportation 11.0 10.4 2.6 0.8
Warehousing/Storage 9.4 1.7 5.5 8.6
Couriers/Messengers 6.7 4.0 2.9 -0.5

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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