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This week: Rochelle Bartholomew: CEO and president of CalArk Inc.

Rochelle Bartholomew heads Little Rock's CalArk Inc., a 37-year-old general commodities carrier.

How has the transportation industry in Arkansas changed since you became CalArk's CEO in 2000? Our industry has become more of an information and technology business. We're looking for more sophisticated systems to optimize our assets and cut costs. Our shippers want more access to information such as shipment status and assistance with managing their supply chain. We are challenged by even more government regulation. Global supply chains have become the norm.

Do you see 2012 as a more economically optimistic year for CalArk? We forecast a slow but steady rise in shipments for the remainder of 2012. Truck capacity is already tight, but carriers are still cautious about expansion. Our existing client base is predicting increased demand almost across the board. Freight rates have risen to pre-recession levels, but so have costs. Rates are still not where they should be to maintain healthy margins.

CalArk recently moved into a 646,000-SF building. Why? And what are your long-term plans for the facility? For several years we've been landlocked in a facility that we've outgrown. We saw the neighboring property [the former Affiliated Foods warehouse] as a perfect location to expand our corporate offices and diversify our services. The location at the intersection of Interstates 30 and 430 is ideal for the public and private warehousing we'll be offering beginning this summer. The facility includes dry storage as well as refrigerated and frozen.

Are there any new industry regulations that concern you? The critical changes to hours-of- service rules for 2013 include an additional half-hour break for drivers and two rest periods between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. during the week for a 34-hour restart. These changes are expected to reduce driver productivity by around 3 to 8 percent. This will result in the need for more drivers to move the same volume of freight. Carriers may be required to lower their recruiting standards to fill their trucks. This also will lead to highways being more congested during peak hours and fewer options for parking for required breaks.

Are you having trouble finding and keeping good drivers? There is a large driver shortage, which is expected to hit record levels during 2013 when new hours-of-service rules are implemented. CalArk has very selective hiring standards. Competition is fierce for recruiting and retaining top drivers. Our challenge is to make the job more appealing to the younger generation. They want predictable schedules and routes, comfortable and convenient equipment and facilities, as well as driver-friendly loads to move.

Trucking generally appears to be making a comeback. Has CalArk experienced that? We're definitely making a comeback. Rates have risen and should continue to rise throughout the year. We're pleased with our productivity and efficiency and look forward to our new warehousing venture.
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Title Annotation:Exec Q&A
Author:Bartholomew, Rochelle
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 14, 2012
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