Keep On Truckin’!
Alaska Trucking Association provides advocacy, education, networking opportunities
By Vanessa Orr

f you got it, a truck brought it.

It seems like a simple concept, but the fact is, Alaska—and the nation—would come to a standstill without the trucking industry. From everyday household items to complex machine parts, truck drivers keep the world running.

No one knows this better than the associations that represent trucking companies, including the Alaska Trucking Association (ATA). Established in 1958 to foster and promote the interests of state’s trucking industry, the organization has more than 200 members ranging from single operators to multinational corporations.

In addition to working with local, state, and federal government and regulatory agencies to keep them abreast of issues facing the trucking industry, the ATA focuses on driver safety, provides DMV services, and offers ongoing education and networking opportunities to its members.

“Road safety is one of the major items that we push for; our guys and gals are on the road at all hours of the day and night, so we focus on issues like the plowing and maintenance of roads,” says ATA Executive Director Joe Michel. “Our safety record in Alaska is better than that of almost any other state, despite the fact that we drive on ice and through terrible weather. It’s an impressive statistic, and it’s the result of our members’ commitment to safety.”

ATA is also at the forefront of dealing with issues that affect the industry’s future, including an impending driver shortage. According to Joey Crum, CEO of Northern Industrial Training and past president of the ATA board of directors, the ATA has an important message to share, especially for the younger generation.

“There are a lot of stories, stereotypes, and misconceptions about what truck driving is and the industry that it represents, but those who come up in it know that it provides an amazing quality of life; it’s a good occupation with a lot of career opportunities,” says Crum, whose father was also a truck driver and member of ATA.

“It’s more than just a career for men—I want my daughters to feel it is a viable option,” he continues, adding that truck driving is often a legacy career. “Regardless of a person’s skill level or education, trucking provides a good place to start and gain both.”

Representing the Industry and the State
While there are a number of associations that represent the interests of truck drivers, the fact that the ATA focuses on the 49th State sets it apart.

“There is a uniqueness to driving in Alaska versus cruising the nicely paved roads of Arizona,” laughs Michel. “The logistics are quite different. Moving freight here is really quite extraordinary. From providing gas stations with just-in-time delivery to dealing with earthquakes when there’s only enough food on the shelves for three days, we keep the supplies flowing.”

Lisa Marquiss, Carlile Transportation’s corporate director of safety and compliance and past president of the ATA board of directors, agrees.

“We have local challenges and concerns that are unique to Alaska such as extreme weather, extreme heavy haul loads, earthquakes that destroy our roads, line haul trips with little to no roadside resources, a lack of infrastructure to manage our sets of doubles, and a lack of in-town road structure to manage 53-foot trailers, among others,” she says. “With a local ATA, you can bring your concerns directly to an association that understands those challenges and work together toward solutions.”

The ATA Truck Driving Competition allows drivers to test their skills and provides the chance for companies to network.


ATA Truck Driving Competition
The ATA Truck Driving Competition allows drivers to test their skills and provides the chance for companies to network.


The ATA meets with lawmakers to deal with issues that face the industry, including when nationwide regulations don’t apply in a local context.

“Local, state, and federal government bodies don’t always understand that a small regulatory change on a Connecticut toll road has an effect on the highway system in Alaska,” explains Crum. “Only 20 percent of Alaska is accessible by road and many communities are connected to highways via the Alaska Marine Highway. Yet trucks in those communities fall under the same rules as trucks on national highways.”

Crum adds that because much of Alaska’s land is in federal or private hands, such as the oil fields on the North Slope, it is also hard to justify hours of service regulations and other rules that apply to public highways to those drivers working on private property.

“While the majority of issues are federal, in the state, we deal with more subtle stuff, such as the law legalizing marijuana for recreational use,” he adds. “This was done without enough education or outreach as to what it means for the trucking industry. It is still a Schedule I drug for DOT-regulated industries, so if a driver fails a drug test, they go on a registry and they will miss out on future employment in this field. These laws are made without enough foresight and communication about the consequences of these actions.”

To this end, the ATA holds out-of-session “Trucking 101 Presentations” for legislators around the state during which the organization shares the economic and social impacts of trucking. “Every spring, we go to the Capitol to meet in person, and we are active in testifying on policy and the legislative process,” says Crum.

The ATA is in good hands on that front, as Michel, who took the position of executive director in December, served as a legislative aide for thirteen years. There, he prepared the DOT operating budget for the House of Representatives as well as capital budgets.

“I prepared five DOT operating budgets, and I’m proud to say that I never laid off an operator,” says Michel, who joined ATA two years ago. “My wife and I were both legislative aides, and after having twins, we realized that we couldn’t be spending that much time in Juneau when a ninety-day session turned into half a year.”

In addition to providing education, ATA’s Truck PAC, the lobbying wing of the association, donates to legislators and initiatives that help to advance the industry in Alaska. “We work with candidates who share like interests, and it’s a very bipartisan relationship,” says Michel. “Trucking affects everything here, and there’s no red or blue about that.

“We are pro-business and pro-safety,” he adds. “When you increase the cost of moving goods to the end user, whether through increased fuel prices or more mandatory regulations, it increases costs to everyone purchasing that product. Our job is to notify the legislature about these outcomes, which is why we come to the table on issues that affect moving goods throughout the state. We don’t want to be part the problem; we want to be part of the solution.”

According to Crum, this begins by involving ATA and industry experts before decisions are made. “We want to be viewed not only as the people you call when you have questions about transportation but as a partner in the legislative process,” he says. “We are a legitimate resource. Truckers work on very small margins, so many of our members are exceptional business professionals who understand money, logistics, margins, and more. When there’s a policy being made on road maintenance or any transportation issue, we have a lot more to offer than just bringing in freight.”

At the ATA banquet, Alaska West Express went home with the ATA ConocoPhillips Safe Truck Fleet of the Year award.


Alaska West Express went home with the ATA ConocoPhillips Safe Truck Fleet of the Year award
At the ATA banquet, Alaska West Express went home with the ATA ConocoPhillips Safe Truck Fleet of the Year award.


Creating Connections and Common Goals
In addition to advocacy, one of the biggest advantages of an ATA membership is that it enables members, especially those fairly new to the industry, to make valuable connections.

“It’s nice to know you can call with any questions or concerns you have, and ATA will respond,” says Samantha Brown, manager of health and safety compliance, United Freight and Transport. “Through your membership, you are also linked to a lot of other trucking companies, and you can talk to them as well; it’s a great way to form relationships.”

Networking opportunities are provided through the annual meeting, as well as through Alaska Truck Driving Championships, which bring drivers together from across the state.

“We had drivers compete in the truck championships last year for the first time in a long while,” says Brown. “It brought us together as a company, and our drivers all placed and went to nationals. It really showed what a tight-knit family ATA is, and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of it.”

Since 1980, when Carlile Transportation’s founding owners Harry and John McDonald first joined the association, the company has appreciated many of the benefits of an ATA membership.

“We have participated in many aspects of the transportation industry through ATA—we’ve flown into Juneau to meet and discuss and educate on our concerns; we’ve taken part in the truck driving championships that bring drivers from across the state to show off their skills; and we’ve taken advantage of educational opportunities such as the National Tank Truck Carriers’ tanker maintenance courses and annual meetings that bring in industry leaders to keep us current on national issues,” says Marquiss.

Preparing for the Future
There are several issues currently facing truck drivers, from the implementation of electronic logging devices to the establishment of a drug and alcohol clearinghouse. But perhaps the most important is an impending driver shortage.

“The biggest problem we face is the lack of a workforce,” says Crum. “We’re in a unique situation in Alaska; there are many education providers here that offer CDL training, but we lack a pool of applicants.”

Part of the reason for this is that despite the fact that career and technical education is being promoted in high schools, young people can’t drive interstate commerce until the age of 21.

“Like many trade organizations, our goal is to get young men and women into the trade before they make life choices that make it harder,” says Crum, adding that the average age of truck drivers nationally is 55.

According to Michel, this is why ATA is working to establish a membership apprenticeship program that will keep prospective drivers in the industry until they can gain a CDL license. “Between the ages of 18 and 21, young people can choose to go down a number of paths; we’re hoping to have them work on the loading docks and in shipping so that they can learn the industry. We have to get young people into the field before they choose a path of drugs and alcohol,” he says.

“Many companies have active apprenticeship programs that provide plenty of incentives and training opportunities,” says Crum, who adds that the field is not limited to those seeking a CDL license. “Nationally, there are four to six people employed in a company for every truck driver; the industry also needs HR specialists, logistics managers, and operational controls experts.”

As the industry continues to evolve, it is especially important that those who know it best become involved at every level.

“There are a lot of untapped companies out there, as well as a number of member companies that we don’t see at meetings or serving on our board,” says Brown. “We want them to understand how important ATA is to the industry and to start taking part.”

Crum agrees. “Any organization is only as good as the members that participate,” he says. “I believe ATA has a very high level of expertise, and that comes from people taking part on a daily basis.”