EVERETT, Massachusetts—“Unreasonable” CARB-dictated emissions deadlines and workforce development dominated discussions during National Tank Truck Carriers’ 2023 Annual Conference at the Encore Boston Harbor hotel, where NTTC also crowned Gemini Motor Transport as its first private-fleet safety champion, and G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation driver Kenneth Toliver as its ninth Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year.
Approximately 500 people representing tank truck industry carriers, fleets, suppliers, and other key stakeholders attended this year’s conference, a turnout NTTC President and CEO Ryan Streblow said was the best in several years, revealing growing appreciation for NTTC’s efforts to provide access to critical content, products, and services. That response is reflected in the organization’s improving financials, expanding staff, and swelling membership—which this year surpassed 500 members for the first time since 2019.
NTTC added 43 new members (17 for-hire carriers, three private fleets, and 23 associate members) who represent 3,979 power units in fiscal year 2022.
“We have an ‘A’ team working with our membership right now,” Streblow said.
“We’re doing the right things. We’re telling our industry’s story, making sure we’re listening to our carriers and fleet members, and our suppliers, and making sure we’re pushing their initiatives, whether it’s from a legislative or regulatory standpoint. People are seeing that, and we’re seeing expanded interest from the industry.”
The conference included economic updates from Paul Lee, Institute for Supply Management (ISM) director of research and analytics, and Kim Beck, vice president of benefits consulting at Cottingham & Butler; presentations by Dan Van Alstine, ATA chairman and president and COO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems, and Earl Adams, Jr., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s deputy administrator; and a keynote address from retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, founder of Folds of Honor.
Tolliver emerged from an elite group of eight 2022-23 Champion Finalists, making Hoffman the first company with two Drivers of the Year. Hoffman’s Ron Baird claimed the honor two years ago, followed by Highway Transport’s Thomas Frain last year. And Tandet Group and Harmac Transportation completed a Canadian sweep of NTTC’s North American safety championships in the Harvison and Sutherland for-hire carrier divisions, respectively.
Tandet’s win made it the first company to prevail in both for-hire categories, following its Sutherland-division Heil Trophy in 2018.
See also: Tolliver takes title of top tank trucker
Finally, NTTC staff and members spotlighted key issues in committee meetings and general sessions, including ongoing legislative and regulatory efforts; delivered updates on the tank truck driver registered apprenticeship and branding campaign; and elected Herb Evans, Eagle Transport vice chairman, as NTTC’s 76th chairman of the board.
The industry next assembles Oct. 8-10 in Indianapolis, Indiana, for Tank Truck Week 2023, which Streblow said will feature key enhancements, including more educational sessions broken into different business-critical categories. “We’re really redesigning the look and feel of Tank Truck Week this year,” he said. “We think Indianapolis gives us that opportunity. And I don’t mean just physically when you’re walking in. You’ll see that as well, but really the branding and everything encompassed within that event.”
Chairman of the board
Evans succeeds Randall J. “Randy” Clifford, Ventura Transfer Company chairman and CEO, as NTTC’s 2023-24 chairman.
“I’m truly honored to be selected as the new chairman of National Tank Truck Carriers,” Evans said during the association’s board of directors meeting. “I’m humbled by the trust my colleagues have placed in me as we move forward in these challenging times. As an organization, we are the strongest we have ever been, yet we remain confronted with numerous challenges, such as the shortage of drivers, regulatory constraints, fuel costs, and the uncertainty surrounding Capitol Hill.
“By all of us working together, we can overcome these obstacles and take the industry to greater heights.”
Evans’ tank truck career spans more than three decades, all with Eagle, where he rose from shop to C-suite, now serving as vice chairman for a company with 1,000 employees and 550 trucks delivering dry bulk commodities, and petroleum and chemical products—including more than 4 billion gallons of fuel annually.
“We’re fortunate to have an individual of Herb’s caliber coming in,” Streblow said. “We’ve had a spectacular string of chairmen, going from focusing on the growth of the organization and workforce issues under Randy Clifford—who also brought in a lot of structure—to Herb, who’s been incredibly engaged over the years. He’s a patriotic individual, and you can tell he’s passionate about the industry, and proud to work with these drivers.
“So taking those elements, and bringing them to an elevated platform, is really going to help us. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now and Herb is in tune with those, from our legislative efforts to our workforce efforts and industry branding. So he’ll be able to assist us on moving the needle in those areas.”
Evans also thanked Clifford for his work after helping him don his chairman’s jacket.
“Randy, I’ve got big shoes to fill, my friend,” he said. “You left the organization in great shape—and I’ll do my best to keep it that way.”
The new chairman will receive support from a 2023-24 Executive Committee that includes Clifford as chair and Michael Salz, president of Linden Bulk Transportation, as first vice-chair. Grammer Logistics’ John Whittington and Highway Transport’s Marshall Franklin are continuing their two-year terms as Advocacy and Young Executives Committee chairs, J&M Tank Lines’ Harold Sumerford, Jr., is returning as Audit Committee chair, and Florida Rock & Tank Lines’ Rob Sandlin is moving into the role of Nominating Committee chair.
Jeremy Mairs, president and CEO of Cox Petroleum Transport, is the newest Executive Committee member, joining as secretary.
Greg Hodgen, Groendyke’s president and CEO, provided Workforce Committee attendees a sneak preview of NTTC’s branding campaign, which is expected to launch later this year, with distinctive visuals and storytelling crafted by the Markstein Group. “I’m excited about this,” he said. “We’ve gone from talking about branding, conceptually, to creating a story we can all talk about, to now being able to encapsulate it.”
The goal is to increase the number of qualified applicants for driver positions with NTTC member companies by persuading them to pursue a tank truck industry career, and boosting overall awareness and positive perception. Strategies include developing and distributing content that expertly articulates the industry’s value to key audiences, including active drivers, military veterans, NTTC members, and the general public; attracting and engaging CDL holders by leveraging “persona” insights that position tank truckers as an elite segment of trucking; and creating a new online resource for education and recruitment.
“We want to be clear in our messaging,” Hodgen said. “We want to have an identity and brand that’s specific to us, so people get used to seeing it and going, ‘Oh that’s the tank truck guys. We heard about them. We know they’re elite, we know they’re special, they do very intentional things … and they’re good at it.’”
With a tone that’s “brave, confident, and proud,” the campaign will encourage prospects to “See yourself in a tank truck” by inspiring them to be one of the “best of the best.” It will target four primary personas—the provider, the problem solver, the initiated, and the adventurer—with emotionally charged messaging, Hodgen said. “These are the people we want to appeal to who might want to be in our business,” he explained.
The new “micro-site” webpage is under construction. It will provide visitors with different paths, depending on their industry knowledge and interest in joining. After the site launches in three to six months, Hodgen envisions routing prospects to the websites of members with nearby terminals, perhaps using zip codes. He anticipated an initial rollout of Sept. 1 in targeted areas, allowing NTTC to gauge reaction before a larger push. “By the end of the year, we’ll know if what we’re doing is actually resonating,” he said.
Dry bulk axle variance
While NTTC members huddled in Boston, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a slate of measures designed to strengthen the nation’s supply chain, including the Dry Bulk Weight Tolerance Act, H.R. 3318, which would establish a 10% axle weight variance for haulers of dry bulk commodities. The bill still has a long way to go to become law—and NTTC previously came up short in pursuit of a dry bulk axle tolerance—but Streblow said the association has a “really good opportunity” this time.
“I hate to be premature on this, but it looks like we might be getting close to the finish line,” agreed J. Ward Best, Atlantic Bulk Carrier vice president, during the Dry Bulk and Food Grade Committee meeting.
NTTC also still is pursuing the inclusion of a dry bulk axle tolerance in the Farm Bill, which expires Sept. 30, in a “two-pronged attack,” Streblow said.
In its latest efforts to addresses the issue of dry bulk commodities shifting in transport—and thereby putting trucks out of compliance with current axle-weight regulations—NTTC successfully addressed the concerns of the Federal Highway Administration, he reported, but still faces opposition from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks.
Congress was expected to resume consideration of H.R. 3318 this summer.
“We’re not talking about modifying gross vehicle weight limits, or trying to modify the bridge formula, which is in place for the number of axles, span, and weight,” Streblow said. “What we’re asking for is to stay within those guidelines, but have a little bit of wiggle room, so if you hit a scale and your drive axle or steer axle is over, because the load shifted in transit, you’re not being put out of service or receiving a citation.”
Securing the dry bulk axle variance, and workforce outreach and development, which includes the branding campaign, are among NTTC’s Tier I strategic priorities. Electronic shipping papers for hazardous material shipments, and redundant background checks also continue to make the list of NTTC’s top priorities.
In addition to branding, ongoing workforce initiatives include supporting the stalled DRIVE Safe Act, which would allow 18-year-olds to haul interstate loads, and creating curriculum for the tank truck driver registered apprenticeship program. Bailey Glendenning-Stark, Workforce Committee chair and CEO of Glendenning Brothers, said the committee is in the process of securing funding and selecting a curriculum development company. She expects most of the work to be complete in six to 12 months. “There is a fair amount of government opportunities available,” she said. “We just have to connect with the right representatives.”
Streblow called DRIVE Safe and the tank truck apprenticeship “complementary” causes.
“Once we’ve completed and approved the curriculum, it’ll be submitted, giving us an opportunity to expand industry outreach to vocational schools, the military—that’s the [U.S. Department of Defense] Skillbridge component—and the Next Generation in Trucking Association.”
Tier II now includes NTTC’s search for obtainable emissions reduction timelines and scalable energy sources through the Clean Freight Coalition, in which it is investing $25,000 annually through its Political Action Committee (PAC) fund. The now seven-association coalition recently added the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) as non-voting members.
NTTC’s PAC is well on its way to meeting this year’s “aggressive” goal of $150,000 in donations, with $91,000 raised after Boston. “For us to get a seat at those tables, we need funds to support the officials who support us,” Streblow said.
Donations totaled only $69,225 in pandemic-plagued 2020, but surged to a record $110,625 in 2021, and again set a record last year, when 107 donors combined to supply $127,250 in support of NTTC advocacy.
“It’s an important year for us on the PAC front,” Streblow said.