Shannon Newton’s career in the trucking industry happened purely by accident and being selected as the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association wasn’t on her road map either.
The appointment happened on the heels of welcoming a new son into her family. Shannon and her husband, Josh, recently adopted a teenage boy out of foster care, making her a mom of three.
Newton, a Saline County native, graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a double major in accounting and computer information systems.
“Trucking was not an obvious choice or field of industry that was even on my radar,” Newton said. “However, I met a recruiter from Maverick Transportation that was on campus promoting some openings in the corporate office, and the story becomes somewhat predictable after that.”
Just out of college, she was hired by Maverick to work in the payroll department, where she stayed for about a year before she was offered a position at the ATA. She’s been with the association since 2003, and she was appointed president in June, replacing Lane Kidd, who stepped down after serving 22 years as president. She said her No. 1 goal in leading the association is to meet the needs of its membership.
“There are general ideas and themes that I personally believe will help the association serve as a vehicle for its members,” she said. “But essentially, if the industry’s interests are being served, issues like membership and engagement and morale tend to take care of themselves.”
The ATA works with more than 300 trucking companies, and members range from self-employed owner operators to some of the country’s largest freight and logistics companies.
ATA board member Al Heringer IV said he is looking forward to working with Newton.
“She was the only choice as far as I am concerned,” said Heringer, who is vice president of sales at Star Transportation, Inc., in Jonesboro. “I am looking forward to working with her for years to come. She understands what we do in the trucking industry and works hard to make sure we are successful in this industry.”
“All the years that I have been a member of the board of directors, she has always had the answers to any questions that I needed to make a decision,” he said.
THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY
Newton also believes in educating the public and making people aware of the economic impact of the trucking industry in Arkansas. The industry employs 86,000 people in Arkansas, that’s one in every 13 working people; it pays $2.5 billion in wages to support Arkansas families; 90% of the state’s towns depend exclusively on the trucking industry to deliver necessary items; and the demand for trucking will likely increase by 20% over the next 10 years, according to the ATA.
“[The public] is grossly unaware of the exorbitant taxes that we pay to support Arkansas government and infrastructure,” she said. “As an industry, we haven’t done a good enough job convincing the public that our industry places a huge amount of effort and expenditures to ensure that we are operating as safely as possible on our roads and highways. And that we are doing all of these things in an environment calling for increasingly high capital expenditures and an incredible amount of regulation.”
According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the top four issues for the trucking industry are hours of service; compliance, safety and accountability (CSA); a shortage of drivers; and the economy. Newton said those issues haven’t changed much in the past few years; however, other items on that list are fuel supply and prices and the lack of spending for infrastructure and the cost of congestion.
“When the economy is steady or improving, workforce – specifically the driver shortage – is the number one economic issue,” she said. “When the economy is not good or declining, a lackluster economy is the number one issue. It’s a very, very slow revolving door. Currently, the industry is facing a huge driver shortage that is only expected to get worse.”
With an aging workforce, Newton said the industry isn’t attracting young drivers at the same rate that current drivers are retiring or leaving the trucking business.
“All of this is overlaid on the fact the bar is being raised with regard to the requirements and qualifications for individuals to qualify to become drivers,” she said.