A recovery of one’s own — grassroots indicators

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

Fort Gratiot Express owner-operator Cliff Hagedon was featured last week on Public Radio International and WNYC’s The Takeaway program in a segment on economic indicators with a human life behind them. Hagedon noted increasingly favorables ratios of available trucks to available loads on public load boards in any given area as evidence that the economic slump was at least beginning to improve for him in some areas of the country. “Right now, I am looking in Meridian, Mississippi, and there are, within a 150-mile radius, 47 loads and 73 trucks that need to be loaded,” Hagedon told WNYC reporters. “A year ago,” Hagedon added, “I would have been seeing 50 loads and 250 trucks.”

That’s a tough indicator, with the perhaps most key element being the dramatic reduction in capacity — or fleets and owner-operators going out of business — the numbers represent. But for those still active in the industry, it could mean, as Hagedon suggests, that business prospects have at least improved since last year’s extremely tough period.

I recently concluded something of an informal test of economic activity of my own, one you might remember from this post back in May. I counted trucks headed eastbound on I-20/59 in Alabama between milemarkers no. 90 and 100 as I shuttled at 70 mph westbound on the same route, roughly beginning at 7:30 a.m., from the second week of May to the end of July. What I found was a slowly increasing number of Class 8s making moves during that period, increases from an average 53 trucks the first full week of June to an average 71 the last week of July.

Here are the averages I found over the entire 12-week time period:

WEEK 1: 49 em(MAY)
WEEK 2: 50
WEEK 3: 55
WEEK 4: 54 em(JUNE)
WEEK 5: 52
WEEK 6: 53
WEEK 7: 72
WEEK 8: 61 em(JULY)
WEEK 9: 59
WEEK 10: 60
WEEK 11: 71
WEEK 12: 63

From officialdom, though, the picture still looks somewhat bleak. Numbers for company driver employment dropped again in July by a half percent, according to this eTrucker story.