CCJ names Watkins & Shepard Trucking Innovator of the Year

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The editors of Commercial Carrier Journal have selected Watkins & Shepard Trucking as its Innovator of the Year for 2006 in recognition of its efforts to recruit drivers who need financial assistance to obtain their commercial driver’s licenses. The LTL and truckload carrier, which has principal offices in Helena and Missoula, Mont., was chosen from among the nominees CCJ recognized as Innovators during 2005. The award was announced during the 2006 CCJ Innovators Summit, held Feb. 1-2 in Duck Key, Fla.

CCJ‘s November issue featured a program conceived by Watkins & Shepard Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ray Kuntz after he learned that one of the nation’s largest truck driving schools turned away thousands of applicants each year due to the inability to obtain affordable financing. Kuntz forged an alliance among Watkins & Shepard; one of its equipment lenders, Transportation Alliance Bank; and Sage Technical Services, which operates 30 driving schools across the United States.

Under the program launched in October, if prospective CDL students meet Watkins & Shepard’s standards and operational needs but can’t obtain reasonable financing, Sage offers them a low-interest, two-year loan through TAB subject to a commitment to work for Watkins & Shepard. After the new driver joins Watkins & Shepard and completes the carrier’s 10-day secondary training program, the trucking company covers more than half of the loan payment as long as the driver stays with the company. TAB’s financing is secured because Watkins & Shepard co-signs the loan, but the driver is obliged to repay the trucking company if he defaults.

“All the trucking operations we recognized last year are worthy of the designation ‘Innovator,’ ” says CCJ Editorial Director Avery Vise. “But Watkins & Shepard stood out because it is trying to tackle a major, almost-universal challenge in the trucking industry with a fresh approach that can be adopted by others.”

Additional coverage of Watkins & Shepard and its innovative program will appear in the April issue of CCJ. The Innovators program is co-sponsored by PeopleNet and Freightliner. To nominate a trucking company or private fleet as an Innovator, contact Vise at 800-633-5953 or avise@ccjmagazine.com or visit the Innovators homepage for a nomination form.