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Local site links Cargo Transporters to talent

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Cargo Transporters domiciles about 130 trucks at its 20-acre terminal in Fountain Industrial Park.

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BY LAWRENCE BIVINS
Special to the Telegram

Monday, December 3, 2018

Even though Cargo Transporters Inc. opened its Rocky Mount terminal less than two years ago, the site has already proven itself effective in connecting the company with its main objective: Recruiting and retaining truck drivers.

“The facility has delivered what we hoped it would,” says Daniel Barnes, executive vice president of CT Management Inc., Cargo Transporters’ parent company. “We’ve been successful finding people in Eastern North Carolina who want to work for us.”

Headquartered in Claremont, privately-held Cargo Transporters is a truckload carrier serving the continental United States. It is part of a family of companies involved in transportation, logistics, truck leasing and warehousing whose corporate roots stretch back to 1966.

“It started from a very modest beginning with the founders and a fleet of about five to ten trucks initially,” Barnes says.

Today, Cargo Transporters operates about 500 trucks, and its 800-person workforce includes 600 truck drivers. The company’s customers include prominent big-box retailers.

Its growth prospects hinge on recruiting and retaining qualified workers. With record low unemployment rates, employers everywhere are facing this challenge. But shortages are particularly acute among truck drivers.

Nationally, as many as 40,000 truckers are needed to fill open positions, according to the American Trucking Association.

“We grow because of our ability to hire and keep a good workforce of drivers,” Barnesays. “One of the reasons we located in Eastern North Carolina was to facilitate the recruitment of drivers.”

Cargo Transporters currently domiciles about 130 trucks at its new site, a neatly developed 20-acre terminal in Edgecombe County’s Fountain Industrial Park. The property includes offices, a driver lounge, orientation facilities, maintenance shop and parking both for trucks and staff vehicles.

“We built it from the ground up,” says Barnes, explaining that the firm’s prior expansions involved acquisition of existing terminals.

Barnes and his colleagues sought an Eastern North Carolina location near I-95. The site would put them close to both truckers and customers. Its search considered Rocky Mount and Wilson.

“The initial concept was for a central trailer parking area and a place for our drivers to put their personal vehicles while they were on the road,” Barnes says.

Among the possibilities were several older terminals that were for sale. But none fit the company’s specifications for size and condition.

“Ultimately, we decided the best course of action was to buy a piece of property and develop it,” he says.

Officials at Carolinas Gateway Partnership helped Cargo Transporters identify a ready property at Fountain Industrial Park that was available for purchase.

“The lot was already graded and fit our needs perfectly,” Barnes says.

The Partnership also introduced company officials to Smithson Inc., the Rocky Mount-based design/build firm. Smithson had experience developing terminals and truck dealerships around North Carolina.

“They were very knowledgeable,” Barnes says. “It was a much quicker process than coming up with an architect and then finding a builder.”

So impressed were Cargo Transporters’ executives that they later engaged Smithson on an expansion at its Claremont operations.

“Our decision to move to Rocky Mount was driven a lot by the ability to recruit talent in the form of professional drivers,” says John Pope, chairman of Cargo Transporters. “We felt like the area was untapped.”

A convergence of factors has led to the national shortage of truck drivers. Demography is chief among the issues.

“In recent years, a large number of professional drivers have retired, and there are fewer young people going into those careers,” says Pope, a grandson of one of the company’s founders.

New technologies and governmental regulation place more burdens on driver training and credentialing.

“Some people still have this presumption that just about anybody can hop up behind the wheel,” he says.

Outdated perceptions linger.

“Our industry has done a poor job of communicating to young adults on what we’re all about,” Pope says.

For more than half a century, Cargo Transporters’ business philosophy has been based on consideration for employee well-being.

“Since we’re privately-held, it’s easier to make decisions internally for the benefit of our employees,” Pope says. “We’ve always re-invested heavily in the company.”

That includes adopting new technologies and spending on employee benefits.

“We provide our drivers with the most advanced equipment and safety technology,” Pope says.

The formula has helped the company build a reputation as a “preferred employer” for professional drivers, an approach that ultimately influences the bottom line.

“When we take care of our employees, they in turn take care of our customers,” Pope says.

The company also prides itself in community engagement, working with local public schools, universities and voluntary organizations.

“We’re fortunate to have been successful and in a position to give back to the community,” Pope says. “It’s something we believe heavily in.”

Cargo Transporters has helped provide educational technologies for middle-school students. It also supports Lenoir-Rhyne University and the Catawba Valley YMCA.

“We try to help the communities we operate in,” he says.

The company’s Rocky Mount site has ample room to grow. Its property at Fountain Industrial Park includes an additional 14 adjacent acres of undeveloped land. Moreover, Cargo Transporters’ facility is only 250 yards from CSX’s Carolina Connector project, the $270 million multi-modal hub that will serve the Mid-Atlantic region.

Barnes says the company didn’t know about the Carolina Connector when it was undertaking its site search, but it spells exciting opportunities for Cargo Transporters.

“It’s going to be a stone’s throw from our property,” Barnes says.

The CSX terminal is expected to boost the region’s logistics sector dramatically.

“It will be a great advantage to industry in the area, and that will be beneficial to our business,” he says.

Lawrence Bivins is a business writer based in Raleigh.

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