Corliss Resources has been in business for 99 years, and hasn’t had to really worry about staffing – until recently. The company is a fixture in Pierce County, Washington, with aggregate and concrete comprising its core business. It has seen booms and busts, and occasionally suffered through slow winter off-seasons. But since emerging from the Great Recession in 2010, Corliss has seen steady growth, fueled by a tech-sector expansion in the Seattle area, a half-hour to the north.
“There’s a lot of migration from King County down to Pierce County,” says Steve Corliss, vice president of operations. “As home prices have gone up, it just pushed people further and further south, and a lot of industry has moved down here into this area – warehouses, manufacturing. From what we’re hearing from a lot of economists, things are going to be really healthy through 2020 and 2021.”
And that’s keeping Darrin Rousseau, Corliss’ safety coordinator and fleet supervisor, awake at night. He’s watching his driver pool age and he’s painfully aware of the challenges of bringing in new talent.
“They’re getting to about that age where [retirements] will start happening in the next 10 years,” he says, and “it’s hard to find a younger person these days that wants to drive a truck when they can go play on their phone or sit behind the computer screen and make more than a truck driver.”
Corliss has one advantage over long-haul companies: The work is all local. Drivers are home at the end of every shift and they operate six days a week, so there’s plenty of earning potential for home-starved highway drivers.
The company has sweetened the pot recently with a higher pay structure, and it offers a strong benefit package. Some of Corliss’ best success stories come from hiring military veterans.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re so close to the base [Joint Base Lewis-McChord] or what, but it seems like whenever we have a veteran come work for us, he typically does pretty well,” Rousseau says.
Skilled technicians, diesel mechanics, and plant operating engineers are becoming scarce too, as are laborers. “It’s the same thing. It’s hard to find people that still want to go out there and get wet and cold and dirty.”
One potential solution to the scarcity of drivers is truck technology. The company’s new Kenworth T880 trucks feature Con-Tech 12-yard drums, the largest in the fleet. “Our dealer [salesman], Rick Barry of Kenworth Northwest, managed to stuff another pusher axle under there and got us some more payload,” says Rousseau. “We can now haul an extra yard on a truck on a thousand loads a year. That’s anywhere from 500 to 1,000 yards a year without any additional work. Multiply that by six trucks and it really adds up.”
The recently added trucks came with Allison automatic transmissions, a first for the fleet. If the drivers’ response was anything to go on, there will be more in the future. “We were scared to death,” Corliss says. “We didn’t know how they were going to work out. We didn’t know how they would perform. But just the ease and comfort on the drivers has proven it was a good investment. It’s been amazing.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of the mixer drum manufacturer, Con-Tech. We apologize for the error.
◗ WHO: Corliss Resources
◗ WHERE: Sumner, Washington
◗ FLEET: 110 trucks: 60 mixers, 40 dumps and other specialty equipment including pneumatic tanks, live-floor trailers and belly dumps.
◗ OPERATIONS: A major supplier of concrete and aggregate building products with gravel processing and concrete batch plants in five locations.
◗ FUN FACT: The family-owned company began in 1919 when John “Doc” Corliss began delivering gravel to landowners and businesses with a buckboard wagon.
◗ CHALLENGE: Meeting customer demands with a declining population of qualified drivers and skilled technicians.