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2010 October 4 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Tech School Grad Donates Rig as Way of Giving Thanks

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Despite the still-faltering economy, the trucking industry is beginning to revive and companies are again hiring drivers.

Even as the industry slumped along with the manufacturing sector, the demand for Greenville Technical College’s truck driving program increased as workers were laid off or feared losing a job, said James Bailey, program manager.

“You can have a very nice career in trucking,” said Joe Price, who graduated from Greenville Tech's truck driving course and became an owner-operator of his own rig. “You see great scenery. You meet nice people.”

Because Price, 49, has decided to give up truck driving for family reasons, he donated his 378 Peterbilt truck tractor along with a 53-foot dry van trailer to the college's training program.

“It is gratifying to see a graduate who gained the skills and knowledge to make a good living for himself now being generous enough to see that others receive excellent preparation for a trucking career,'' Bailey said. With the gift, the program has 16 tractors and 26 trailers.

Over his years at Greenville Tech, Bailey has seen driving students ranging in age from 18 to 76, with less than a high school education to a doctorate and from every industry sector, including commercial airline pilots after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

First-year drivers often find salaries of $48,000 to $53,000 a year, he said, but they are responsible for more than just driving the big rigs. Bailey said employers are looking for drivers who are mature, have the ability to self-manage, can handle record-keeping and are multitaskers. Drivers also have a public relations function because “you are the company” to customers.

Three nine-week truck driving courses are underway and a fourth is planned. Upon completion of the court, students must be tested by the state to receive their commercial driver’s license. Students must be able to read at the 10th grade level and need relatively clean driving and criminal records.

The cost of the training for Greenville County residents is $1,981. Out-of-county students are charged $2,066.

Even with the slow economic recovery, ``Most of our students have pre-employment,'' Bailey said, with a job contingent on passing the state exam.

Price said he had “next-door neighbors who were truck drivers,” but he said his parents stressed gaining at education. He graduated from Clemson University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Afterwards, he worked with JP Stevens and Collins & Aikman, much of the time in the company's automotive carpet divisions and some of that time in Detroit, Mich.

When the company jettisoned the auto carpet division, he said he had a decision to make move with the company or find a new career. He had already begun transporting carpet samples in his hatchback so he figured he could drive a truck.

But he did much research. He found out the requirements. He learned about the program. He gathered advice from experts. Because he had children at home, he decided he needed to become an owner-operator so he could control his time better.

The question then: “Can I do this? Yes, I could. It's difficult. It was an experience.”

But he conducted more research and found a way to buy a used truck and discovered what kind he needed.

The 2002 Greenville Tech graduate said the money he spent on the truck driving training “is the best money I ever spent.”

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