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Nov.16, 2015

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TRADING PLACES 54 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE Peter Tirschwell NOVEMBER 16.2015 DRIVING CHANGE YOU WON'T CURRENTLY find a situ- ation where drivers are in short supply in the Houston market. And although container volumes through the Port of Houston are up a solid 11 percent through August, in part because of diversions from the West Coast, equipment isn't in short supply. "Equipment availability is cur- rently not an issue, and truck/driver supply is more plentiful than a year ago. You have some people dismiss- ing the existence, or severity of, the driver shortage because our market has pulled back," Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery, a regional trucker and 3PL, told The Journal of Commerce. "They are wrong." Weakness in energ y, a major industry in Houston, has been one factor stabilizing the trucking mar- ket, but even though a recovery in oil prices is far from certain, Fielkow says the balanced market is never- theless a temporary phenomenon. "I believe this is all short term. If we look at the past five years, for most of that time the driver and equipment supply has been short." A law yer, Fielkow acquired Jetco in 2006, and currently oper- ates an intermodal, van and flatbed f leet of some 100 trucks and 250 trailers and chassis. In recent years, he created units focused on heavy haul, warehousing and freight bro- kerage, which he said increasingly is a standalone business rather than a tool to find capacity for cargo he can't handle on his own trucks. He was a speaker at the 7th annual Harris County International Trade and Transportation Conference on Oct. 28, organized by County Judge Ed Emmett, former commissioner on the Interstate Commerce Com- mission and National Industrial Transportation League CEO. From his vantage point, despite the current equilibrium, Fielkow is witness to the challenges facing truckers and customers through - out the U.S. as the driver shortage worsens steadily. The American Trucking Associations reported on Oct. 6 that the shortage of drivers in the U.S. grew by 10,000 during the past year, and with the aver - age age of truckers at 49, the shortage is on track to quadruple to 175,000 by 2024. Fears of a trucking capacity crunch nationally also have subsided this year along with a broader freight slowdown expe- rienced since midyear, tied, some believe, to excessive inventories retailers are now work- ing down. But in a long-term environment of driver shortages, Fielkow said, "he or she who has the drivers wins the game." That applies to trucking com- panies and to shippers, with both needing to take action to ensure they are adequately positioned. At Jetco, Fielkow is building a vibrant company culture based on safety, teamwork and especially respect for drivers, integrating them into the company's operations. He is being vocal on issues such as immi- gration and penal reform to free up more drivers for the workforce. L i k e m a n y o t h e r t r u c k- ers, Fielkow has seen shippers and consignees back off the spot market in favor of longer-term con- tracts that are more likely to yield capacity when it's needed. Some shippers may regret that, given that predictions of extremely tight capacity didn't play out this year, but Fielkow said shippers' strategy is on target. "There's always going to be a spot market, and I get that. But the smart shippers have made a deci- sion to be important to a handful of trucking companies," he said. "I'm not suggesting they put all of their eggs in one basket, but what I am suggesting is that they've made a decision to marshall capacity so that the capacity is there when they need it. They're calling a trucker that knows them, that's taken care of them, and it's an important relationship. This as opposed to bidding out every single load, because in t he sys - temic driver shortage that we're in those are the last people to get the trucks when they really need it." He said more ship- pers are performing meaningful due diligence on issues such as safety and operating pro- cesses. They're also making their facilities more driver friendly. "Drivers need to be treated well, not just by the trucking companies but when they're at your warehouses. When it's 100 degrees out there, have a bottle of water for them and understand what a difficult job they have navigating our increas- ingly crowded roads," he said. "I'm speaking specifically to shippers and consignees: If we ignore this and don't collectively figure out how to fix this problem, what we're talking about right now is going to be mag- nified tremendously in a very short period of time." JOC Contact Peter Tirschwell at and follow him on Twitter: @petertirschwell. Brian Fielkow "He or she who has the drivers wins the game."

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