Dan Furth, president of National Tank Truck Carriers, said his organization began navigating the “new normal” as soon as social-distancing guidelines started to kick in across the country, including employees working remotely to help “flatten the curve” on COVID-19, a week before he issued his “State of the Association” address to members concerning NTTC’s ongoing advocacy and education efforts during a public health crisis.
Fortunately for members, and the industry as a whole, their preparations for helping carriers survive these unprecedented business challenges began before the novel coronavirus pandemic reached North America, ensuring the member-driven association can continue to perform its essential functions—when they’re needed most.
“People are really busting their tails to keep up with what’s going on,” Furth said.
“Government is the only business in business, right now, in its own way. And so, with the fact that we’ve been here for 75 years, and plan to be here for another 75 years, we really need to keep working each piece of the government to help the members, and I think our members realize that.”
Ryan Streblow, the association’s executive vice president, said he’s acutely aware of the needs and expectations of NTTC’s members, who are counting on them for critical help of all types, particularly on the operational side. Furth said COVID-19 questions continue to pour in regarding Hazardous Materials Endorsements, border crossings, hours-of-service, rest areas, handling new hires while state motor vehicle departments are closed, various certifications required for shifting supply chains, and many other topics. Members are looking for verified information, financial guidance, insights into what other fleets are doing and more.
They’re also laser-focused on ensuring employees, from drivers and mechanics, to office personnel and executives, and everyone in between, stay safe and healthy while performing important jobs during difficult times.
“They’re relying on assistance from us when it comes to the federal government, regulatory agencies, education, etc,” Streblow said while emphasizing that NTTC’s mission, which is centered on advocacy, education and engagement in the tank truck industry—remains certain, even in these most uncertain times, thanks in large part to a well-funded endowment and strong financials, with well-balanced income from dues and key events.
Furth called the last several years a “heyday” for government majors, especially those like him in Washington DC, from the 2016 election to multiple investigations, impeachment and now a global pandemic grinding economies to halt. He also said governments’ responses to crisis, and their ability to communicate across different levels, often is “interesting” at best, but he’s been impressed by authorities in this case.
“They’re doing a tremendous job in working across jurisdictions, from the local sheriff all the way up to the (COVID-19) task force, where, if there is an operational bottleneck, or they hear something from one of our carriers, they immediately take it and act,” Furth said. “And so the response time is really quick, it’s non-denominational, non-partisan; it’s recognizing the importance of trucking, and in our case, recognizing the critical importance of tank trucking.”
Tank truckers often are most appreciated during state and national crisis, Furth said, pointing out they’re the ones delivering key food products, enabling energy services—and even hauling the alcohol in hand sanitizers. And some tank fleets are continuing to run hard to keep the country moving. But many other member companies are suffering from the adverse affects of an economic recession that has unemployment soaring to record highs, particularly those carriers serving the hard-hit oil and gas industry.
“There’s no way to sugar coat this thing—it’s tough out there,” Furth admitted. “And many, if not all, of our carriers are experiencing revenue declines and uncertainty more than they ever have. This is economic uncertainty times 10. You’re going to see capital expenditures reduced to virtually nothing. So you’ve got all sorts of different things going on, and there are different sub-segments, so it certainly ebbs and flows a little bit, but it is not good.
“There are people who have lost anywhere from 20% to 50% of their revenue.”
NTTC is trying to ease their burden, too, along with the businesses of all members large and small, including carriers who can’t “hedge their bets” in a crisis by shifting focus to hauling a different product. Furth worked to ensure hazardous materials transportation workers were listed in the earliest critical infrastructure guidance documents created by Congress, NTTC began fielding an increasing number of inquiries about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as soon as it was signed into law, and NTTC will continue to make sure the tank truck industry is considered in any further stimulus packages.
“These are tough times,” Furth said. “How do you pay people if they don’t have anything to do? You don’t want them to leave, and they don’t want to leave. So we’ve got to do something to band-aid and then triage the current situation, relative to … all of the things that the government is trying to achieve—workforce retention, business stability and reemergence. We are 100% behind that.”
The association also recognizes this pandemic likely will have “significant” long-term ramifications for many companies, particularly given the historic disruptions to energy markets. But Furth said in early April he was starting to be able to see light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, and when people finally are able to start living their lives again, the tank truck industry will be at the forefront, helping restore the “true normal.”
“(Tank trucking) is a low-margin business, so even if you had a rainy day fund and you were doing well all these many years, that’s not going to be a huge rainy day fund,” said Furth, who also recommended members seek out third-party tax and legal advice, and work closely with shippers to help keep cargoes moving. “So there will be a long-lasting impact here. But I also think the tank truck segment, specifically, is a leading economic indicator, so we’re usually the last into trouble and the first out of it, and that’s our 75 years in a nutshell.
“We will lead the way out of this economically, because we have to do so.”
NTTC’s efforts include its own work with outside parties, such as the American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, Petroleum Marketers Association of America and other industry groups, in an effort to unite all stakeholders, an operational survey Streblow said will inform NTTC’s educational priorities, and a government-requested economic survey that will take a closer look at COVID-19’s impact on member businesses.
After having to scrub the 75th anniversary NTTC conference, originally slated for May 3-5, NTTC also is planning to move forward with this year’s other events as scheduled, including the Safety & Security Council Meeting (June 16-18), Summer Membership & Board Meeting (Aug 6-8) and Tank Truck Week (Oct 6-8), which Streblow predicted will be a “spectacular” show featuring representatives from across the industry who will be eager to talk business, and all the education and recognitions it wasn’t able to deliver in May.
“That typically is very executive/safety/operational focused,” Streblow said. “It’s one of the largest tank truck equipment events in North America. And the silver lining in what we’re dealing with on the COVID-19 scenario right now, is that it has allowed us to take these various components and deliverables, that we weren’t able to perform at our May meeting, and shift them over to really enhance what that experience is going to be for Tank Truck Week.”