I know that each of us is thrilled to see the economy turning the corner. Last year was better than the year before. And I believe that 2011 will be better still. GDP is inching back up. The Federal Reserve has said that consumer borrowing is growing, a sign that consumer confidence is on the rise. Small-business optimism is at a three-year high. And the manufacturing sector increased for the 18th consecutive month in January.
All of this tells me that we are on our way to an economic recovery when more freight will translate into more trucks — and even more drivers — in our travel centers, restaurants, convenience stores and fueling stations.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are many challenges and choices still ahead for all of us. The operating climate of the last few years — and all the obstacles we have weathered — have forced many of us to change the way we do business. We’ve had to work a little harder, in a lot of cases with fewer resources.
But what hasn’t changed is NATSO’s commitment to you. And at a time when it would be so easy for us to focus on what seem like the many challenges to progress, I’d like to challenge you to focus on the opportunities.
I stand here today not only as NATSO’s new chairman — a title I am honored to bear — but as a businessman who serves as a living testament to how innovation and new ideas can drive your success. I’m also someone who can speak firsthand about how my success is fundamentally tied to my participation in NATSO.
I’ve been a member of NATSO since 1981. I own two travel centers in Western Virginia, one of which I recently purchased. I own Lee Hi Travel Plaza in Lexington, Va., which I’ve operated for more than 30 years. And just last year we had the opportunity to purchase White’s Travel Center in Raphine — a property we completely renovated and refurbished.
Given the tough economy, a lot of folks might be surprised to learn that last year was one of the most prosperous that my employees and I have ever had.
When I joined the industry in 1981, I owned a towing and roadside service business. I was a young man with a lot of drive and ambition. But I was struggling to come up with business solutions on my own. It was a lot like trying to push a boulder uphill, all by myself. I could see the top, and where I wanted to go. But somehow, I couldn’t quite get there.
All that changed when I joined NATSO and started attending The NATSO Show. Suddenly I had access to hundreds of NATSO members. Men and women who had stood in my shoes and tackled the issues I faced.
Thirty years later, the people who I have learned the most from, and the people who I consider my closest friends, are my fellow travel center industry peers. There isn’t a dinner I go to, or a meeting I attend, where I don’t learn something new — something that helps me run a better business.
As NATSO members, on some level, we all have common needs. And I truly believe that if we work together, we can find solutions to meet every one. My biggest goal as chairman is to help our members the same way that NATSO helped me. And I’m challenging each of you to engage in this organization in a meaningful way that allows you to help someone else in our industry.
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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