SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA breaks ground on headquarters expansion

| 2/25/2003
(photo by Mark H. Reddig)

OOIDA President Jim Johnston looks out over the crowd during groundbreaking ceremonies for the association's headquarters expansion on the south side of I-70 at the Grain Valley, MO, exit. He is shown in front of the association's truck, the Spirit of the American Trucker.

Construction will begin soon to expand the headquarters of a national truckers' association located for 30 years in Eastern Jackson County, MO.

On Friday, Feb. 21, employees and officials gathered at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association building for the official groundbreaking ceremony.

Grain Valley Mayor Matt Farlin served as the host, introducing OOIDA President Jim Johnston. Johnston said the project would relieve an acute space shortage and allow the association to "meet the challenges of the future." The project will also bring together the association's growing staff, many of whom currently work in leased, off-site space.

Speakers included Jay Dorst of Commerce Bank; Missouri Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-55th District; Rep. Gary Dusenberg, R-54th District; and state Sen. Matt Bartle, R-8th District.

Also in attendance were Grain Valley city aldermen; City Attorney Jim Cook; Nilesh Patel of the Planning and Zoning Commission; Doug Stone, OOIDA's attorney; and Brad Wise, Missouri Department of Transportation.

Employees and guests enjoyed a catered reception compliments of John Traynor, manager of the Apple Trail Restaurant in Grain Valley, Ron Buckallew, general manager, and Steve Shoemaker, Apple Trail's owner.

The three-story expansion, designed by Tom Williams, Ingalls Williams Architects, will give OOIDA an additional 40,000 square feet. Plans call for the project to be completed in mid-August. Triad Construction is the contractor.

OOIDA's Johnston said the substantial magnitude of problems faced by small business truckers is directly connected to the association's need to expand.

The OOIDA president said the association's services are vital to the survival and prosperity of truckers in what has traditionally been an extremely difficult operating environment.

"It is our challenge to develop and expand the resources necessary to continue to provide the much needed benefits and representation," he said.

OOIDA spent many years occupying a renovated truckstop at the Grain Valley exit, south of I-70. In 1998, that building was demolished when the new three-story facility was completed just to the east of the old headquarters.

In April 1998, when the association moved into the new building at 40 Highway and R.D. Mize, it had 87 employees who served the business needs of 39,000 trucking members in the U.S. and Canada. Today the association has 215 people on staff and 91,000 members.

"Doubling of our membership numbers every four to five years is not at all unusual for us, but the effects of that rate of growth as you begin to get into the bigger numbers did catch us napping a bit," Johnston said. "Our existing space that was planned as adequate for 10 years of growth was blown away in less than five."

For years, eastern Jackson County residents have watched the growth of the business. Still, many don't know what goes on inside the glass building that now stands alone at the Grain Valley exit off I-70.

"OOIDA is the professional association for truckdrivers," employee Linda Kelly of Belton said. Kelly works in the billing department of the truck insurance division.

"The association provides one-stop shopping for a variety of services," employee Angel Burnell of Odessa said. Burnell is executive assistant to Jim Johnston. "Truckers working in a federally regulated industry really need a lot of help to be compliant in all they do."

Truckers are required to meet strict safety standards and to be fully insured, be enrolled in an approved drug-testing program and be properly registered. They must meet hours-of-service rules (tracking their hours in logbooks) and adhere to hundreds of safety regulations. As they drive from state to state, they must be aware of the approved truck routes, size and weight restrictions, weigh station procedures, permit requirements and more.

"Fuel prices are astronomical, and freight rates are low," Gary Green of the Business Services department said. "The tough economic climate makes a trucker's resources really important."

"Our 800 number is among the most important ones a trucker carries," Brenda Reynolds, supervisor of the medical benefits department, said. "And when a member calls us, the last thing we want is for him or her to be on hold for 10 minutes because we don't have the room to be fully staffed."

Johnston said the new building project, along with the acquisition of the land necessary to add additional office space, would enable the truckers' association to continue "necessary and unrestricted growth" into the foreseeable future.

"Most important to us," he said, "it will allow growth without the necessity of relocation or establishment of satellite facilities."

Sandi Soendker is managing editor of the association's award-winning national trade magazine, Land Line. Her department is housed in one of the "satellite" facilities Johnston speaks of.

Land Line is a popular trucking magazine, published nine times a year and with a whopping readership base of more than 200,000 truckers. Land Line is written and produced in Grain Valley, printed in Liberty. For several months it has been moved off-site for lack of space.

"We moved the entire publishing department off-site last spring to make way for larger departments that were at the 'sardine can' stage," Soendker said.

"Most of the building is approaching critical mass now," she said. "Our switchboards field hundreds of calls an hour."

"We average about 2,600 phone calls a day," Nikki Johnson, supervisor of OOIDA's force of phone receptionists, said. "Some days, it's more. Last Tuesday, for instance, we handled more than 3,500 calls."

Beyond services and programs, OOIDA also wears yet another hat. The association actively advocates the views of truckers through interaction with state and federal government agencies, legislatures, other associations, private businesses and in the judicial system. OOIDA is active in all aspects of highway safety and transportation policy and represents the positions of truckers on state and national levels.

--by the Land Line staff