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State's largest trucking companies coping with tough economy.

CONSIDERING THE HIGH FUEL prices and slowing economy, Arkansas' truck companies have, so far, managed to hold their own.

The companies on Arkansas Business' annual list of the state's largest trucking companies have, with a few exceptions, reported slight increases in revenue for 2007. Some small companies have shut down, however, and the picture for 2008 remains uncertain.

Arkansas is home to some of the largest trucking companies in the nation. Five of them are on Transport Topics' list of Top 100 For-Hire Carriers. Those are J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith, USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren, P.A.M. Transportation Inc. of Tontitown and Maverick USA Inc. of North Little Rock.

All but Maverick, which is the second-largest flatbed carrier in the nation, are publicly traded companies. All are truckload carriers except Arkansas Best, which is less than truckload.

J.B. Hunt remains the largest trucking firm headquartered in the state, pulling in revenue of $3.48 billion last year, a hair above the $3.33 billion it posted in 2006. Looking at just the truckload companies, J.B. Hunt is the third-largest in the nation.

Arkansas Best, mainly through its largest subsidiary, ABF Freight System Inc., had revenue of $1.77 billion, down just a bit from the $1.81 billion of a year ago. It's still good enough for the company to be ranked fifth among the LTL carriers in the nation.

FedEx Freight, although headquartered in Memphis, is essentially the old American Freightways company that the Sheridan Garrison family owned at Harrison with some additional LTL operations added to it. It is the country's second-largest LTL carrier with revenue of $4.93 billion following YRC Worldwide Inc.'s $9.6 billion.

USA Truck managed a big jump, reporting more than $482 million in revenue last year; compared with $385.3 million for 2006; P.A.M. posted almost $409 million in revenue, a slight increase over the $400.3 million of last year; and Maverick reported $290.3 million, a solid gain from the $250.0 million of the year before.

The current economy has not been easy on truckers. Even as many of the larger companies have seen an increase in revenue, profits have slumped because of high fuel prices. Some of that growth comes at the expense of smaller operations that were forced into bankruptcy or simply shut down until better times. Having fewer trucks on the road has reduced competition and given the surviving companies more bargaining power.

Morgan Keegan & Co.'s sector review of Aug. 15 shows the fundamental outlook for both truckload and less-than-truckload carriers was positive.

Still, the companies have had to be more careful with their spending, and some have had to make more dramatic changes, such as P.A.M., which in the past has relied heavily on the automotive industry. With that industry's slowdown, P.A.M. has had to look for other ways to remain profitable.

The Private Fleets

Out of Transport Topics' annual list of the largest private trucking fleets, two of the top five are based in Arkansas.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. operates the second-largest fleet of trucks with 7,053. Tyson Foods Inc. is ranked No. 5 with 2,993 trucks.

Many of the private carriers are involved in the food service industry. Sysco Corp. of Houston is the largest with 7,666 trucks. U.S. Foodservices of Columbia, Md., follows Wal-Mart in third place.

Two other Arkansas-based trucking have large fleets. Both Pat Salmon & Son Inc. of North Little Rock and MCA Inc. of Little Rock are mail carriers. Salmon operates about 1,000 trucks and MCA about 900.

By John Henry
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Title Annotation:Overview
Author:Henry, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 25, 2008
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