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“Not sure anyone knows if we’ve bottomed out,” charges ATA’s chairman

NEW ORLEANS, Louis. For a former politician, Bill Graves, chairman and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, ...

NEW ORLEANS, Louis. For a former politician, Bill Graves, chairman and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, was uncharacteristically undiplomatic in his state of the industry address here this morning as he assessed the outlook for the industry.

The former two-term governor of Kansas said he considered following the pattern of most state of the industry addresses and focusing on the positives achieved during the year but abandoned that plan because he knew “the facts would still be the facts.”

“Things are not going well for our industry,” he said, which reflected the somber mood of many of the executives attending the ATA’s annual conference this year.

He added that high fuel prices, a slumping economic climate, a credit crunch, collapse of consumer confidence, the possibility of more government regulation and political uncertainty are making for a “recipe for bad times and I’m not sure anyone knows if we’ve bottomed out” or how long it would take for a serious recovery to take root.

He did, however, stress that the industry has faced crisis before and innovation has allowed it to survive.

“The very nature of our business demands that we continually evolveThere is an entirely new face to the industry compared to 25 years ago,” pointing to recent initiatives to push for 65 mph national speed limit, speed limiter legislation in trucks, idling reduction strategies, and supporting the SmartWay partnership with government, all in an attempt to release the chock hold high fuel costs are having on the industry.

Graves also said there are lessons about resiliency to be learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left 80% of New Orleans under water three years ago.

“Three years ago nobody would have dreamed we would be meeting here today,” he pointed out. Three years ago, the ATA’s meeting place, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center situated near the riverside, served as a temporary shelter to about 20,000 displaced residents after the Superdome overflowed.

Graves said the lessons learned from Katrina, and which can be applied to the handling of all crises, are:

1.The need to have a plan for disasters because preparation is key.
2.Teamwork is central to getting things done
3.The importance of infrastructure and the dire consequences of ignoring it.

On that last point he stressed that Katrina revealed just how outdated the US infrastructure really is and said changing that is the ATA’s most important challenge.

“The rest of the world is catching up to us and will soon surpass the US in infrastructure investment,” he pointed out.

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