Washington Insider
Growing exports: What's in it for truckers? What's not?

By Ryan S. Bowley, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

While the United States may have the lead in the number of Walmarts and Best Buy stores, and it seems as if everyone is at your local mall right before Christmas, 95 percent of the world’s consumers actually live outside the U.S.

With many American producers suffering as our economy still struggles along, the untapped world market represents a great opportunity to increase sales and grow jobs – benefiting truckers along the way with more loads. 

On March 11, 2010, President Obama issued an executive order creating the National Export Initiative (NEI) and set the goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years. According to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, “the more that companies export, the more they produce. The more they produce, the more workers they need. And that means jobs. Good-paying jobs here at home.” 

Exports already represent nearly 13 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but there is a lot of room to grow. China and India continue to be manufacturing centers, and as their economy grows, more of their consumers want and can afford U.S.-made goods. Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa, and other “next tier” emerging markets are seeing GDP growth, and their consumers are also becoming more affluent.

Part of the NEI is ensuring that U.S. companies, especially small and medium-sized manufacturers, consider the opportunities of selling overseas and understand the best way to find customers and how to operate inside a new country. Each U.S. Embassy has business promotion staff that work to increase opportunities for American businesses. 

But how does an effort by embassy staff to get Vietnamese hospitals to buy U.S.-made medical equipment benefit U.S. truckers? 

Truckers hate deadheading, which is a common practice when serving a port or a major distribution center. A weak export economy increases the number of deadhead runs, cutting into the bottom line for owner-operators. With an increase of exports as diverse as grain and high-tech energy monitors, truckers will see less deadheading, boosting their incomes. 

The benefit of increasing exports goes beyond just the manufacturing floor. This reality was expressed by NEI Director Courtney Gregoire during a recent speech to the Association of American Port Authorities in Washington, DC.

“Every $1 billion we export supports more than 5,000 U.S. jobs,” said Gregoire.

Despite these clear benefits and an administration-wide effort to increase exports, in some respects the administration is missing the boat in regard to actions that can be taken to drive up exports. Gregoire says that a goal of the NEI is to “develop a policy to achieve seamless and facilitated goods movement to boost export sales.”

However, the focus of the Department of Transportation, which is part of the initiative, is on spending billions on high-speed passenger rail and pushing hours-of-service regulations that would make it more difficult for truckers to move exports from the American heartland to seaports on our coasts. 

If the DOT was truly part of the export team, improving highway infrastructure along the most traveled freight lanes and finding balance between safety and productivity would be the priorities. Instead, the only mention of exports made by the DOT since January has been touting their job-killing cross-border trucking initiative with Mexico.

Growing exports will benefit owner-operators, but misplaced investments and unreasonable regulations place this and the goal of putting Americans back to work at risk. With the House and Senate at work drafting a new highway bill, now is the time to educate your representatives about these misplaced priorities.

Instead of trying to find new ways to spend the money truckers pay to maintain and improve highways, lawmakers need to hear from truckers that highway investments are key to increasing exports, creating jobs, and righting our nation’s economy. LL