Tables Are Turning

LaRue Mitchell and her husband Mike, who recently leased on to Landstar, are optimistic about 2003. That’s even with the “financial crunch” the Fort Collins, Colo., owner-operators are experiencing from changing their lease. Still, she says: “It’s going to look good because we’re positive people.”

LaRue was just one of several owner-operators we asked to peer into their crystal balls to see what 2003 might bring. Despite the difficulties of the past few years, the owner-operators we spoke with were unanimously positive:

  • Barry Eckstrom, who describes business in 2002 as “tight,” bought six trucks in the last six months. Eckstrom and his girlfriend and team driver Mary Schapmann, of Norfolk, Neb., now have eight trucks. 2003 “looks good,” Schapmann says. “We’ve got some good people working for us and have regular customers we haul for.”
  • Sharon Moyer of Traverse City, Mich., says her husband Bill’s income improved in 2002. “We even put another truck on this year,” she says. Sharon handles the paperwork for Bill, who has his own authority. As for 2003, Moyer is hopeful that “it will be really good.”
  • Donald Ridzon of New Springfield, Ohio, pulls a flatbed around the eastern U.S. With only two and a half years as an owner-operator, Ridzon says 2003 “looks good because I’ll pay off my truck.”
  • An optimistic bunch, to be sure. And if trucking economist Martin Labbe is right, they may have reason to be. Rates, Labbe told attendees at the American Trucking Associations annual meeting in October, are improving. One reason? Since so many carriers and owner-operators went out of business in recent years, “there are fewer chickens chasing the same kernel of corn,” he said.

    Although there are fewer carriers available to move freight, the good news, stock analyst Donald Broughton told ATA attendees, is that “no one’s talking about adding capacity.” Instead, Broughton said carriers are focusing on better utilization and getting higher rates.

    Another positive: Labbe and Broughton said pay will go up as carriers compete for a smaller pool of drivers and owner-operators. Labbe predicted driver wages will increase 25 percent by the end of 2004.

    Though economic indicators have been mixed in 2002, the downturn you suffered through for more than two years could end in 2003. Since you’ve made it this far, you’re well-positioned to benefit when carriers with limited capacity start scrambling to keep busy shippers happy. As Tom Kretsinger, head of the Truckload Carriers Association’s Independent Contractor Division, told TCA this fall: “Owner-operators are more in demand than ever before.”

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