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Trucking firms flourish.

Inaccessibility Hasn't Slowed Carriers

THREE OF THE NATION'S largest freight carriers are nestled in the hilly terrain of the Ozarks, and the first question that comes to mind is: How does all that trucking activity take place without easy access to interstate highways?

That's a question that even the founders and CEOs of these companies find difficult to answer, and it's presented to them often.

"That's one of the toughest questions I've ever been asked," says Dean Cannon, founder and CEO of Cannon Express Inc., a Springdale-based carrier that operates 519 tractors and 769 trailers and employs more than 600 people. "I guess we have more than our fair share of entrepreneurs in this area."

The 11 largest truck carriers in northwest Arkansas, six of which are publicly traded, earned revenues of more than $2.3 billion collectively in 1992. The largest of those carriers is also the nation's largest publicly held truckload, dry van carrier in the country -- J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., based in Lowell.

Cannon points to several possibilities about how the trucking industry has flourished in the region. He says the region already had an existing poultry and produce industry and that Springdale had several established truck vendors that could supply needed spare parts.

"We had Freightliner, Kenworth, Mack and International already located here," Cannon says. "They were important for us getting readily available parts for our vehicles."

While not directly attributing the success of his company to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s need for shipping sources, Cannon alluded to the compatibility that has existed between Cannon and the nation's largest retailer.

"That certainly hasn't hurt us," he says. "I think part of our growth can be traced to Wal-Mart. It's been mutually beneficial."

F.S. (Sheridan) Garrison, founder and CEO of American Freightways Inc. in Harrison, says he located his company there because that's his hometown. While TABULAR DATA OMITTED he admits that Harrison is even more inaccessible than Fayetteville, Springdale or Rogers, the lack of up-to-date highways hasn't slowed the growth of the company since its founding just a decade ago.

"The infrastructure is just something you work around," says Garrison, whose company operates 1,955 tractors and employs more than 3,000 people in 132 terminals across 14 states in the South and Midwest.

Like Cannon, Garrison points to existing industries in northwest Arkansas and the need for shipping sources.

"There was a need to start with," he says, "and there were people capable of answering that need. There's been a large trucking base here for years; it started 30 or 40 years ago with the poultry industry."

Susan Lea, director of corporate communication for J.B. Hunt offers what might be called the common denominator for the success of freight carriers in the Ozarks: work ethic.

For Hunt, she says, roads and airports don't have to be the mainstay of the trucking industry. The main ingredients are good employees and good communications links instead.

Cannon says the industry "just sort of evolved."

"I guess a lot of us just didn't know what we were getting into, nor did we realize what we were going to grow into," he says.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas trucking industry
Author:Spivey, E. Patrick
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 18, 1993
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