Hometown heavyweights: These trucking and logistics companies have Chattanooga roots

Over the past couple decades, Chattanooga has become a thriving hub for numerous trucking and logistics companies — each of which has created jobs, contributed to toward economic prosperity, and helped reinforce the city’s position as a strategic crossroads for the industry. Here, we highlight some of the most prominent companies to get their start in Chattanooga:


* Founded: 2002

* Founders: Ted Alling, Barry Large and Allan Davis

* Access America Transport was one of Chattanooga’s most successful startup companies in the past three decades, with more than 500 employees and annual sales of nearly $500 million when the company merged with Coyote Logistics in 2014. The combined Coyote and Access America company was sold a year later to UPS for $1.8 billion.

Access America and its successors handle multi-modal transportation, including truckload, less-than-truckload, intermodal, flatbed and specialized freight for customers across the U.S. Access America employees have gone on to start or work at many of the logistics companies populating Chattanooga’s business scene. Founders Ted Alling, Barry Large and Allan Davis used part of their fortune from the business sale to create the Dynamo Fund, a venture capital fund that has helped seed or aid dozens of business startups in the shipping and logistics arena.


* Founded: 2015

* CEO: Lance Malesh (MODE Global parent company)

* Headquarters: Avenger in Chattanooga / MODE Global in Dallas

* Facilities: Avenger, 1; MODE Global, 8

* Number of staff/employees: Avenger, 75; MODE Global, 450+

From the company

* Beginning days: Avenger Logistics was originally started by Don Godsey, the founder of Gold Bond, a supplier of promotional products. Godsey decided a freight brokerage had less risk and more upside potential than an asset-based company, so he set his sights on creating a freight brokerage in Chattanooga. The company quickly found success and went from $9 million in its first full year, to $26 million in its second year, and up to $56 million its third year. After another successful fourth year, COVID arrived and changed everything. Avenger had been courted by potential buyers in the months leading up to the pandemic; and while a purchase was nearly complete, the uncertainty of the times caused those potential deals to be pulled from the table.

* Navigating the downturn: Fortunately, the next 18 months proved to be explosive for the industry, and during the fourth quarter of 2020, the company was acquired by MODE Global. Avenger kept its original name and branding, and now operates under the family of companies held by its parent organization. As the industry once again faces a challenging market, Avenger is working on streamlining efficiencies. The company continues to see year-over-year volume growth, and the foundational efforts toward automation are front-of-mind for the company’s key leaders. Avenger is positioned to continue to grow market share with its existing customer base, while expanding into new industry verticals through increased service offerings through MODE Global.


* Founded: 2011

* CEO: Luke Marklin

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: NA

* Number of staff/employees: 100+ headquarter staff

From the company

* Beginning days: Bellhop (originally Campus Bellhops) was founded by Cam Doody and Stephen Vlahos in the summer of 2011 as a way to provide college students with a simple way to move into and out of their dorms. The founders’ initial goal was to schedule 30 to 40 moves during Auburn University’s three-day freshman orientation weekend, but ultimately they completed 325. From there, Bellhop has continued to grow, now providing full-service and long-distance moving in more than 40 cities nationwide. The company has been listed as one of the country’s top moving companies by U.S. News & World Report.

* Navigating the downturn: Despite the overall downturn in the housing market, Bellhop has continued to find ways to accelerate growth through new partnerships and services to assist customers. Additionally, the company has continued to invest in new technology to improve overall operations and facilitate future growth.


* Founded: 1986

* CEO: David R. Parker

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: Multiple warehouses and terminals across the U.S.

* Number of employees: 5,000+

From the company

* Beginning days: As the step-son of Clyde Fuller, who built the national trucking company, Southwest Motor Freight, David Parker grew up around trucking. After his father’s business was sold in 1986, Parker and his wife, Jacqueline had a vision to start their own trucking company. Parker made an agreement (a covenant) with God: He and Jacqueline would run the business “the right way,” if God would provide. The couple invested their hard-earned seed money to start Covenant Transport, with 25 trucks and 50 trailers. They built Covenant’s corporate culture around three faith-based values: treat others as you want to be treated (empathy), put others before yourself (servanthood), and do business with integrity, honesty, and fairness in all situations (virtue).

* Navigating the downturn: Covenant expects headwinds from a softer market and continued inflationary pressures. In this environment, the company focuses intensely on cost savings to improve its operating costs. But the main focus remains on the long term goals, with continued investments in new equipment, people and technology. The company expects less earnings volatility than in prior periods of economic weakness. Covenant has worked to strategically shift its customer base to less cyclical industries through its full-service logistics focus. Even with a weak freight market, Covenant expects its cash generation, moderate leverage and available liquidity to continue to benefit shareholders.


* Founded: 2014

* CEO: Jason Whitten

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: 7

* Number of staff/employees: 409

From the company

* Beginning days: KCH Transportation started as a trucking company in Woodstock, Georgia in 2004, and eventually became a non-asset holding brokerage due to the the company’s overwhelming success. In the last two years, the company has nearly tripled in size, upscaling four offices (Chattanooga, Nashville, Atlanta and Augusta) and opening three additional locations (Dallas, Tampa Bay and Phoenix).

* Navigating the downturn: KCH’s success during the economic downturn is directly related to its core vision — to build partnerships in the supply chain. Fiscal responsibility in early years allowed the teams to continue growing while maintaining service for all customers, big and small. The company will take a loss in an emergency in order to preserve the relationship, knowing the retention will bring a return.


* Founded: 1950

* CEO: Denis Reilly

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: More than 100 distribution facilities in 33 states

* Number of staff/employees: 5,737

From the company

* Beginning days: Kenco Group’s history began in 1950 with a single warehouse in Chattanooga with two employees — Jim Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Smartt. Though the company’s history is full of evolving innovations, its greatest early achievement was when Kennedy drafted the industry’s first management fee contract warehousing agreement with DuPont in 1969. To this day, DuPont remains as a Kenco customer. Since that first contract in 1969, Kenco has grown into a fully integrated logistics provider, managing more than 100 distribution facilities in 33 states. Kenco currently serves more than 350 clients with varying logistics needs across a wide range of industries.

* Navigating the downturn: To help customers through economic downturns, both in the past and today, Kenco Group focuses on the deployment of continuous improvement (CI) projects — a proactive approach to implementing incremental changes that optimize efficiency, reduce waste and improve performance. By deploying CI projects, Kenco has driven out more than $100 million of waste from clients’ operations over the past 10 years, and continues to deliver those the same benefits in this year’s unpredictable market.


* Year founded: 2014

* CEO: Cindy Lee

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: Network of 30,000+ carriers

* Number of staff/employees: 25

From the company

* Beginning days: LYNC was founded in 2014, stemming from Cindy Lee’s desire to create a better working relationship between brokers and truck drivers. Over the past nine years, LYNC has stayed true to its founding principles: empowering women in any industry, supporting employees who prioritize their families, and maintaining transparency in dealings with trucking companies. Today, the Chattanooga-based company works with more than 30,000 carriers and serves clients across the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

* Navigating the downturn: Prior to starting LYNC, Cindy gained experience as vice president of human resources at Lee-Smith Inc., in Chattanooga. She also served as the president of a regional freight carrier. While serving in these roles, she learned the importance of building trust and connecting with people in the male-dominated trucking industry. Cindy’s interactions with truck drivers taught her to listen and treat them as friends, not just drivers.


* Founded: 2009

* CEO: Andrew Ladebauche

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Number of facilities: 9

* Number of employees: 300

From the company

* Beginning days: Reliance Partners commercial transportation and logistics insurance company was established in 2009, initially backed by the same team who founded Access America Transport, along with insurance expert, Andrew Ladebauche. Reliance has crafted a formidable leadership team, comprised of executives from AAT and the former Coyote Logistics. Reliance Partners has grown to a staff of more than 300 employees, using on-demand technologies like the Reliance Utilization Based Interface (RUBI) to find insurance solutions for the industry.

* Navigating the downturn: Reliance Partners is using its strategic resources and nationwide distribution capacity to tackle the current downturn. In addition to its deep-rooted logistics experts, the company has a partnership with Carousel Capital. With nine offices across the U.S. focusing solely on trucking and logistics, Reliance works on channeling its resources, keeping focused on providing customer service to get through these challenging times.


* Founded: 2012

* CEO: Jason Provonsha

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: 11 offices across 9 states in the Midwest and Southeast

* Number of staff/employees: 700

From the company

* Beginning days: Originally created as the international division of Access America, Steam Logistics began in response to customer demand for expanded global services. The plan was for Access America to leverage its business development capabilities and funnel its customer base to fuel the rapid growth of Steam as a freight forwarder. However, in 2014, Access America was acquired by Coyote Logistics, leaving Steam to chart its own course and establish itself as an independent entity.

* Navigating the downturn: Company leaders expect the industry downturn to continue through this year, and make a turn for the better going into 2024. Steam is in a fortunate position due to its multi-modal strategy and can deliver a much broader range of solutions than most 3PLs. Since the pandemic, there has been a real shift in customer expectations, and they are looking for partners who can deliver these expanded services rather than being one-dimensional. Steam is seeing this first-hand from its customers, with shipment volumes up 50% year-to-date as a result.


* Founded: 1966

* CEO: Eric Storey

* Headquarters: Henagar, Alabama

* Facilities: Chattanooga and Henagar

* Number of staff/employees: 150

From the company

* Beginning days: What started in the mid-1960s with a farmer and his potatoes, is now a multi-generational trucking company operating out of Chattanooga and Henagar, Alabama. Paul Storey started Storey Trucking with just a couple trucks, and when his potato crop ran out, he started hauling freight. More than 50 years later, now with Eric Storey at the helm, Storey maintains a fleet of more than 100 trucks, each one hauling refrigerated dry goods back-and-forth from the Chattanooga area to destinations across the western United States.

* Navigating the downturn: Storey has been driver-first since the business started, emphasizing “the human side of logistics” to make the driver experience the best it can be. Storey is managing the downturn by taking care of its drivers, working hard to keep them moving. Instead of making several pickups before heading back to the Southeast, they have a local fleet who stays in the California area to keep their teams rolling. Storey’s planning prevents their drivers from sitting for multiple days before returning home. The typical cross-country run for Storey’s solo or team drivers is five to six days, and then they are back at home with their families to rest.


* Founded: 2012

* Co-CEOs: Chris Wang and Derek Steele

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: Additional offices in Birmingham, Alabama; new warehouse in Savannah, Georgia

* Number of staff/employees: 55 across all offices

From the company

* Beginning days: Taimen was founded in 2012 by Chris Wang and Derek Steele. Wang began his logistics career with Access America Transport, and Steele was a former contract manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Taimen brand draws its inspiration from a legendary fish only found in remote areas of Mongolia. Locally referred to as the “river wolf,” taimen are an aggressive fish with large teeth, notoriously known for hunting food in packs. The “river wolves” at Taimen embody this spirit, working together to provide solutions for their clients.

* Navigating the downturn: Taimen cut its teeth in the oil and gas industry, arranging shipments of steel pipe and equipment on flatbed trailers across the country. Quickly building new offerings for a growing customer base, Taimen expanded into additional truckload services across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Starting in 2017, leadership expanded by adding a second company – Taimen Trucklines, a traditional trucking company with 48-foot flatbeds and 53-foot dry vans. During the pandemic, the company expanded the trucklines dry van fleet while adding expedite and air services to Taimen Transport. In response to growing customer demand for drayage and storage, Taimen purchased a 100,000 square-foot warehouse in Savannah, Georgia in 2022. This diversification of services and physical capital investments has provided employees with new growth opportunities throughout the economic slowdown this year.


* Founded: 2013

* CEO: Heath Haley

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: Tennessee, Minnesota and Florida

* Number of staff/employees: 256

From the company

* Beginning days: Founded in 2013, Trident Transport began in a studio apartment-sized office space where founders Mark Harrell and Heath Haley (also brothers-in-law) booked their first load, earning the first $50 for the full-service logistics company. Fast forwarding to today, Trident has been named one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation for the last five years and has grown exponentially with offices in three cities and plans to continue expansion.

* Navigating the downturn: Supply chain will always be a cyclical market. By remaining proactive, Trident has been able to set face these challenging times. The company’s strategy on managing the downturn consists of: 1. Continueing to enhance service levels with carriers and customers; 2. Creating an employee-focused workplace; 3. Investing in technologies to generate a more efficient workflow; 4. Enhance training opportunities; and 5. Maintaining positive experiences for employees, carriers and customers. Trident believes that by holding true to core values, the company can continue to thrive in any market conditions.


* Founded: 1986

* Headquarters: Chattanooga

* Facilities: 48 shops, service centers and offices across the U.S.

* Number of staff/employees: 10,885 employees

* New owner: Knight-Swift, the nation’s fifth largest trucking company, is in the process of buying U.S. Xpress

* Beginning days: Max Fuller and Pat Quinn started U.S. Xpress in 1986 after previously working for Fuller’s father, Clyde Fuller, before he sold Southwest Motor Freight in 1985. Starting with just 48 trucks, Max Fuller and Quinn built U.S. Xpress into one of the nation’s largest long-haul carriers, amassing a 5,000-truck fleet in the company’s first decade in business. From its corporate headquarters on Jenkins Road in East Brainerd, the company embraced satellite tracking of trucks before the majority of the industry; and U.S. Xpress was one of the first fleets to implement fully-automatic transmissions in their trucks. In 2017, Max Fuller promoted his son, Eric Fuller, to CEO of U.S. Xpress, and the company went public and became a stock-traded company in 2018.

* Navigating the downturn: Shares of U.S. Xpress lost more than half of their value last year after the company lost nearly $40.5 million. U.S. Xpress made three rounds of staff cuts and realignment at its corporate headquarters in the past year, and agreed in March to merge with Knight-Swift Transportation under an $808 million purchase offer.


* Trucking and freight industries navigate turbulent times as historic highs give way to painful lows

* How women are taking the wheel and making inroads into the traditionally male-dominated trucking and logistics industries

 photo  Photography courtesy of Bellhop / Bellhop CEO Luke Marklin
  photo  Photography courtesy of Covenant Logistics / Covenant Logistics CEO David Parker
  photo  Photography / EDGE archives / LYNC Logistics CEO Cindy Lee
  photo  Photography courtesy of KCH Transportation / KCH Transportation CEO Jason Whitten
  photo  Photography courtesy of Steam Logistics / Steam Logistics CEO Jason Provonsha
  photo  Photography courtesy of Taimen Transport / Taimen Transports Derek Steele, Ryan Daniels and Chris Wang
  photo  Photography by Matt Hamilton / Trident Transport CEO Heath Haley
  photo  Photography courtesy of Storey Trucking / Storey Trucking CEO Eric Storey
  photo  Photography courtesy of Avenger Logistics / Avenger Logistics President Jason Roberts
  photo  Photography courtesy of Kenco Group / Kenco Group CEO Denis Reilly
  photo  Photography / EDGE archives / Reliance Partners CEO Andrew Ladebauche
  photo  Photography / EDGE archives / U.S. Xpress Enterprises CEO Eric Fuller

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