Sen. Mike Braun’s Contribution to Trucking from Indiana to the Capitol
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A Jasper, Indiana, native, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana), has not been a lifelong politician. In fact, the senator spent most of his life as an Indiana businessman by trade and a passionate morel mushroom hunter by hobby. Spending his weekends with family and friends, he hunts delectable and coveted mushrooms praised by chefs, particularly in gourmet French cuisine. But when he wasn’t scouring forest floors for fungi, fishing Indiana’s ponds and lakes, or hunting game, he was hard at work making his mark on the trucking industry.
Meyer Body Company, as it was called at its founding in 1937, initially manufactured truck bodies, and later distributed truck parts and equipment. Until around the mid-1980s, vehicle parts were mostly purchased and installed for commercial and farming applications, that is until Sen. Braun acquired Meyer Distributing and reimagined the way consumers brought customization to their vehicles.
Sen. Braun acquired the company in 1986, with Daryl Rauscher, during the 1980s farm crisis. A combination of factors, including a fall in exports, soaring farm debts for land and equipment purchases, and economic hindrances like high interest rates and oil prices, led to the crisis’ peak by the mid ’80s.
“It was not doing well before I started there; it was quickly circling the drain,” said the freshman U.S. senator. “So, I ended up having to start doing some things to keep the doors open.” That included buying and selling used trucks and equipment, followed by a foray into the truck accessory market. The senator said it took 17 years to grow the accessory business, but it eventually grew from a small, local company of 15 employees, to the nearly 1,000 people it employs today in its 70 locations across 39 states, with its own dedicated truck fleet (Meyer Logistics). “The irony was everything I was selling was a want, not a need,” he said. “…This would be like weather-tech floor mats, anything you could accessorize after you buy a car, truck or SUV.”
Originally in Haysville, Meyer moved to a true warehouse in Jasper in 1998 to better serve its customers while the coverage area expanded. Today, Meyer Distributing is an industry leader in specialty products distribution and marketing. Many strategically placed warehousing facilities help Meyer serve thousands of customers nationwide with Meyer Logistics direct ship.
Growing the Trucking Industry
Meyer Logistics operates with a little more than 400 power units, and about as many truck drivers, and like many logistics companies in the Hoosier state and beyond, Meyer is not immune to the challenges of getting new people involved in the trucking industry. The driver shortage stretches back at least 25 years, stemming from increased freight demand, high turnover and retirement rates. The American Trucking Association estimates companies need about 60,000 drivers, and that number could rise to as many as 100,000 in a few years. Still, Sen. Braun said Meyer has been able to navigate the difficulties by planning dedicated routes to be conscious of hours worked.
“We’re constantly trying to build an attractive atmosphere for driving, and I think all trucking companies are going to be contending with it,” he said.
One of the senator’s main objectives is to educate parents and students on the value of the industry and other trades. “I wish the education system didn’t stigmatize jobs like driving when you can make a lot more than many four-year degrees with hardly any cost. So, I work hard in Indiana and with the pulpit I’ve got in D.C. to make sure educators aren’t hurting the ability to fill jobs like truck driving, plumbing, electricians,” Sen. Braun said.
The student loan debt accounts for a $1.5 trillion crisis, and the fact is, jobs need to be filled. Sen. Braun wants today’s students to be aware of the options outside of two- and four-year degrees as early as their freshman year of high school and believes they can be made aware with help from parents. “Here in Indiana — from the governor down to Ivy Tech, Department of Workforce Development, my input — everybody knows it’s a big deal. We’ve got 80,000 jobs in the state that can’t be filled and none of them, as a rule, need a four-year degree because we shipped twice as many four-year degrees out of the state compared to what we need and use each year,” he explained. “I believe my attention is there. Parents are actually the ones that will help change the dynamic.”
Striving in Senate
Sen. Braun served three years as an Indiana legislator and co-authored S.Res.288, a resolution affirming the importance of the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The resolution was introduced in July and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is the roads and bridges committee in the Senate.
First encouraging people to join the industry, then focusing on the funding for safe roads and bridges are essential to growing the network, he said. In addition to his time in the Indiana Legislature, Sen. Braun has worked on the Roads and Transportation Committee, Indiana House of Representatives; Ways and Means Committee, Indiana House of Representatives; and now serves on Environment and Public Works in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Braun has put his experience to good use in Washington, D.C., specifically by incorporating ideas used in his home state to his work on the national scale. In theory, his idea is that enterprising states like Indiana, if willing to contribute funding from their own cashflow, should be given preference in the face of strikes to federal dollars. “Sadly, the federal government is in pretty rough shape financially, so I’m concerned about something as big as infrastructure, which is $2 trillion, if not more, over 10 to 15 years,” Sen. Braun said.
Outside of infrastructure funding, the senator said health care is the No. 1 issue, which he blasted for high prices, poor performance and inefficiency. “They’ve not embraced technology at all; they don’t want to compete and be transparent,” he said. “I took it on to my own company 11 years ago to make it consumer-driven, transparent to the extent you can, get your employees involved in their own well-being, have them shop around from dollar one, and my employees have not had a premium increase now into the 10th year. It can be done.”
The senator said as a Main Street entrepreneur, he has “always been wary of bigger companies that don’t embrace competition and transparency.” And he cites those as factors seen in many sectors. Overall, adequate access to affordable health care and problems surrounding the environment come to mind, with Sen. Braun urging everyone to tend to the environment and “take care of Mother Earth,” without adding more federal
government. “We, as conservatives and business owners and so forth, need to always recognize there are issues out there and talk about the things we know really make sense,” he said. “The economy is humming now, and I think it’s due to different leadership in D.C., and I intend to keep talking about it.”