While larger cities such as Memphis, Tennessee, is known as the hub for FedEx and Houston, Texas, referred to as the “Oil Capital of the World,” the city of Joplin, a longtime trucking hub, has been cited as the prime home base if you are a truck driver.
Joplin was recently rated as the best city for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, according to a recent survey conducted by AdvisorSmith, an insurance group that provides research and tools to advance businesses. The insurance company published its “Best Cities for Truck Drivers” list this year after examining 384 cities nationwide to determine the best places for truckers to put on the brakes, hang their hats and settle down.
Three main factors were assessed in the report: number of trucking jobs, average driver salaries and cost of living. AdvisorSmith said compared with the list of the top 50 cities, Joplin produces 125% more trucking jobs overall and 336% more trucking jobs than the city average nationwide. The survey also cites a cost of living that is 21% lower than the national average.
According to the survey, the best cities for truckers, ranked from 1 to 10, are as follows: Joplin; Danville, Illinois; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Odessa, Texas; Morristown, Tennessee; Enid, Oklahoma; Springfield, Ohio; Terre Haute, Indiana; Midland, Texas; and Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Our analysis found that many of the best cities for truck drivers are small and midsize cities,” AdvisorSmith said in its report. “Of the top 50 cities, 40% were midsize, 36% small, and the rest large cities. A majority of cities were located in the Midwest, where there is better access to move goods from hub to hub. Smaller cities won out in our study with 40 out of the top 50 cities having metro area populations under 500,000.”
Tom Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association in Jefferson City, said one in 16 jobs in Missouri currently are related to the transportation industry, which is growing continuously. The association, established in 1937, represents about 600 members including truck operating companies and those that provide goods and services to the motor carriers.
“Joplin is a strong trucking community,” said Crawford. “We have a number of members from Joplin that serve on my board of directors. It’s definitely a strong trucking community in the state. The Springfield-Joplin, Southwest Missouri area, is definitely the trucking powerhouse in Missouri.”
The results that Joplin scored so highly is not a total surprise, because the region is swarming with large trucking businesses such as Contract Freighters Inc., Transport Distribution Co., and D&D Sexton Inc. Crawford said there are approximately 1,500 to 2,000 trucking companies in the state that have approximately 10 or more trucks.
CFI has been in Joplin since 1951, currently operating with about 2,100 trucks and drivers, as well as about 600 other employees. Greg Orr, president of the company, said there are many reasons why Joplin came out on top for the survey, including its centralized location and hardworking community.
“When you think about the interstate crossovers that you have today, it makes it a lot easier for us to have a trucking company here because you’re on two major through ways,” he said. “The other piece is when you look at Joplin in general, it is what I call a great Midwestern culture- and values-type of community, and people tend to migrate to an industry like trucking here because it’s kind of core to the roots of the Midwest.”
Competitive wages are also a key motivator in the trucking industry and makes it appealing to drivers. Orr cited 2018 as CFI's record year for driver salaries, ranging from $53,000 to $55,000, which is significantly higher compared with what he said was a nationwide average of $47,000 to $48,000.
The total trucking industry wages paid in the state exceeded $6.6 billion three years ago, with an average annual trucking industry salary of $46,996, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Greg Klang, a truck driver who’s been with CFI for 25 years, has almost reached his 3 million-mile mark. The trucking industry is a family affair for the Klangs. His wife, Stephanie, has also driven for the company. Klang said he loves his job at CFI because of the traveling, the autonomy and that he gets to take his cats along for the ride.
“Trucking pay at CFI is above average, and once you learn the job, it pays very well,” said Klang. “As a student driver going through trucking school, I didn’t know the difference (in trucking companies). It was actually lucky for me that I chose CFI.”
D&D Sexton Inc., which is based in Carthage, was established in 1981 and specializes in refrigerated trucking. Dean Sexton, owner and CEO of D&D, said the company employs about 240 truckers and serves as the largest carrier for Schreiber Foods, a privately held dairy corporation. The company also works with several fast food chains.
He said Carthage is D&D's headquarters because of the area's centralized location, but this also makes it very difficult to recruit drivers because of the surrounding competition. D&D’s biggest competitor is Prime Inc., based in Springfield and now one of the largest trucking companies in the country.
“Recruitment's been a tremendous problem, just with the shortage of drivers,” said Sexton. “We’ve done many things. We’ve brought drivers in from Russia, New Zealand and Australia. We’re always trying to recruit. Being in refrigeration, really I don’t have a lot of competition in the Joplin area, but driver recruitment can be difficult."
Although recruitment may pose some challenges, Sexton said they pride themselves on having some of the highest safety ratings, trucker salaries and also provide other incentives such as health benefits and bonuses.
“Our truckers make an average annual salary of about $90,000,” he said. “We have a reputation that we’re a safe company and treat our drivers well. We have great equipment, good pay, benefits. Bottom line is we give everything out there.”
Remy Braun, a driver for D&D, was named the 2018 Missouri Driver of the Year, as well as the 2019 American Trucking Association Driver of the Year. Braun has been a professional driver for more than three decades and has accumulated more than 4 million miles.
“I have a great staff and team,” said Sexton. “I have people who have been with me for 25 years plus that haven’t left. We have the best equipment, high safety ratings and the best technology.”