Maverick Transportation celebrated Thursday (July 24) the expansion of a training center that CEO Steve Williams said will help it raise standards at a time of a worsening driver shortage and inadequate highway funding.
The $3.5 million expansion, which opened earlier this month, added 13,710 square feet to the building, including four additional classrooms and five new training bays.
Gov. Mike Beebe praised both Williams and Maverick, saying they “are the best I have ever seen at what they do.”
“We’ve got some great trucking companies in Arkansas,” he said. “Arkansas is noted for great trucking companies. This is the best. This is absolutely the best.”
Seventy-five percent of the firm’s drivers join the firm without previous experience. The cost of training them is $10,000 per student. “And we don’t know if that individual, once they graduate, get the keys to that truck, will be with us one day or the rest of their lives,” Williams said.
While the event’s purpose was celebratory, Williams used it as an opportunity to voice concerns about the state of the nation’s supply chain. The trucking industry’s driver workforce is aging, and it faces a growing shortage. The natural gas industry can pay its drivers much better wages, further reducing the pool of potential over-the-road drivers who will deliver freight for firms like Maverick.
“The reason I share that with you is that we’re at a pivotal point in our country on how we’re going to move freight in this country,” he said. “We have to recognize that things are different. They’re much different than they used to be. We’re trying to deal with that reality because it’s our obligation to try to make our driving jobs careers of choice and not of last resort.”
Williams said 50,885 people expressed an interest in driving for Maverick in 2013, but the firm was only able to hire 948.
“What that means is that we were only able to hire 2 percent of the people that wanted to come to work for us for a whole long list of reasons, and we were only able to hire one in five people that we had applications that were serious about coming to work here,” he said.
Williams said the United States has failed to invest in its highways. While population and commerce are increasing, the nation’s infrastructure remains static. The Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency within about a week unless Congress agrees to a short-term fix. The World Economic Forum ranks the country 19th in the quality of its infrastructure. Williams said the fuel tax, which has remained unchanged since 1993, needs to be raised.