When we think about the trucking industry and its relationship to the greater economy, we tend to think of dry goods vans and fuel haulers. Flatbed trucks are left out of the equation because the cargo they carry, unlike what is hauled by petroleum tankers and box trailers, does not fit neatly within the retail environment. But that does not mean flatbed trucking is not just as intrinsically tied to the overall economy. Quite to the contrary, it is.
Just like demand for dry goods and petroleum hauling is influenced by how well the general economy is doing, both demand and spot rates for flatbeds are impacted by current economic conditions. As certain industries pick up steam, so does the volume of flatbed loads. If you stop and think about it, it’s really just a matter of stepping back and thinking about how a finished product becomes a finished product.
Flatbeds and Manufacturing
Next time you see a flatbed trailer carrying a load of aluminum or steel, try to look beyond the chain tie-downs and black smoke tarps. Consider what that aluminum or steel will be used for. It is quite possible the load you see is headed for a manufacturing facility that produces cars, appliances, or any number of products that utilize aluminum and steel. Or maybe the load is heading to a fabrication facility where it will be processed before moving on to manufacturers.
The reality is that consumer demand for things like cars and appliances influences the demand for steel and aluminum. When consumers are interested in buying, manufacturers turn around and buy their raw materials from suppliers who send them by way of flatbed trucks.
At Ohio-based Mytee Products, they sell all sorts of cargo control supplies to flatbed truckers. They carry everything from chains to plastic edge protectors. Even they know when the general economy is picking up because their customers need more of the things they sell. When demand for steel coil is up, steel tarps sell more frequently. When lumber is hot, so are lumber tarps.
Flatbeds and the Construction Industry
New construction, particularly when it is residential in nature, is seen as a harbinger of current and future economic trends. When the housing market is strong, economists take it as a sign that the overall economy is strengthening as well. It turns out flatbed trucking is involved here, too.
The heavy equipment developers use to clear land prior to construction arrives on-site on the backs of flatbed trailers. The concrete blocks and infrastructure building materials needed for the first stages of construction arrive via flatbed. Everything from trusses to roofing materials to drywall make it to the construction site on the back of a flatbed.
The obvious implication here is that when home construction is booming, flatbed demand rises. By contrast, an inadequate supply of flatbed capacity would mean construction companies would not have access to the materials they need to build. And, of course, that says nothing of commercial construction – an industry that relies even more heavily on flatbed trucking.
The point to be made here is that the entire trucking industry is intrinsically connected to the overall economy, including flatbed trucking. More than 70% of all the freight that travels throughout the United States spends at least some time on the back of a truck. It is all important, whether freight is moved by way of flatbeds, dry vans and reefer trailers, car carriers, or tankers. Without the army of trucks that crisscross our interstates and city roads, our economy would come to a grinding halt.