SPECIAL REPORT: President’s visit to trucking company doesn’t include its owner-operators

| 1/24/2003

When President Bush visited trucking company JS Logistics in St. Louis earlier this week, he met with a group he said represented the kind of people who would benefit from his tax plan.

The group included small-business owners, including JS's owners, a restaurateur and the owner of a software company, as well as several employees of JS, including its dispatcher.

But, despite the fact the firm uses mostly owner-operators in its trucking fleet, the president's roundtable did not include any truckers.

The president's tour of the company's facilities was supposed to include some owner-operators and a demonstration of loading a truck. However, other scheduling problems cut the tour short.

"Initially, they were going to include a couple (of owner-operators) that were actually going to be able to meet the president," John Cochran, the company's president, told Land Line. "He intended to tour and meet some people, but none of it was able to evolve. His schedule was too tight."

Plus, he said, "They (the truckers) were all out trying to make money."

Meet Me in St. Louis

President Bush visited JS Logistics' St. Louis location on a trip through the Midwest Jan. 22. The company's facility is located on Gustine Avenue not far from I-55 in the southern part of the city. The visit started at roughly 10:05 a.m. and lasted till shortly after noon.

The roundtable was Bush's first event at the company. Later, he made some brief remarks. Cochran said the remarks, which ranged over a wide variety of issues, were off the cuff.

"In his prepared remarks, he had probably two pieces of white paper," Cochran said. "He pretty much shot from the hip; he wasn't reading off of a script. I was impressed.

"I was surprised myself. I was sitting right behind him."

JS provides local and national on-demand delivery of business freight. The company started as a courier service, and now also includes a warehouse and trucking operation. It contracts with roughly 30 owner-operators.

Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the White House, told Land Line the president visited JS Logistics in part because the firm is a good example of the type of business that would be aided by the president's program. Griffin said the firm would also benefit from reductions in the tax rate proposed under Bush's plan.

"In order to make sure people can find work, we've got to strengthen our small business environment," the president said during his opening remarks at JS. "And one of the things that gets lost in this debate about tax relief is the effect of tax rate reductions on our small businesses."

The roundtable discussion with the president was designed to show how his economic proposals would benefit local businesses and workers.

"The president talked a lot about the benefits of his economic-growth and job-creation package for small businesses, in terms of specifically the small business expensing rules that the president announced," Griffin said.

The president stressed that in his remarks: "The best way to encourage job growth is to let companies like JS keep more of their own money so they can invest in their business and make it easier for somebody to find work."

Now, small business can expense only about $25,000 of equipment purchases on their taxes each year. Bush's proposal would increase that amount to $75,000 in an attempt to spur purchases of new equipment, which in turn, Griffin said, should create more jobs.

Cochran said he thought the event went well.

"It was a fabulous event and it was good for the industry," he said.

A Great Wall from China

The president and White House officials hoped to focus the trip on the president's message. However, some press reports focused, literally, on the backdrop.

Reuters news service reported that the president made his initial remarks in front of "a fake wall" made of cardboard boxes carrying a "Made in U.S.A." stamp. Another group of boxes, which carried marked-out "Made in China" stamps, sat to one side.

The White House told Reuters it did not intend to cover up the markings on the boxes.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the switch, humorously dubbed "boxgate" by one press report, "appears it was an overzealous volunteer."

"We'll take it up with the appropriate channels," Buchan said.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor