MARIETTA - With its central location and access to transportation by river, rail, road, and in some cases by air, local officials say there is little question as to why Ohio has one of the largest shipping networks in the nation.
"We're blessed, especially in this part of the state, to have a good highway system and access to rivers and rails," said Charlotte Keim, president of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce. "And we're also located within 500 miles of half of the U.S. population...You can get products to half the country within a day's drive in most cases."
In 2007, Ohio transportation companies moved $563 billion in goods, fourth most in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's commodity flow survey. The census conducts a commodity flow study every five years and data is currently being collected for the next report, but none of that information is currently available.
Although there was a time when river and then rail were the best ways to ship goods, the advent of the interstate system and the demand for products to be delivered quickly has fueled the trucking industry the past several decades. Trucking accounted for 78 percent of all shipping in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Development.
Richard Gessel, manager of Iddings Trucking in Marietta, said almost every product is moved by truck at some point in the delivery chain.
"We do work a lot with rail and barge, but practically everything has to go by truck at some point," Gessel said. "Barge and rail are limited by where they can go, where we aren't."
Gessel said everything from food to clothing to fuel and building supplies were on a truck at some point before a consumer purchased the items.
Ohio has the nation's seventh-largest road system with more than 123,000 miles of roads. Washington County has direct links to the nation's network of roads with both Interstate 77 and U.S. 50.
According to the census report, Ohio ranked third in the total value of goods shipped by truck, with $437 billion moved in 2007. The report did not include figures for Washington County but Gessel said the local shipping industry remains strong.
"A lot of local trucking is dedicated to supporting the local industry," he said. "We move a lot of coal for the power plants and a lot of raw materials for the metal and chemical companies... Then we take their finished products to wherever they need to go."
Many of those finished products from local metal or plastics companies are intended for use in the automotive industry and are destined for manufacturers in Ohio and Detroit, Mich., Gessel said.
Census figures show 35 percent of items shipped in Ohio are destined for locations within the state. Michigan gets about 7.3 percent of the value of all other goods shipped from Ohio, with Texas, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky rounding out the top five states that are shipped to most often from Ohio.
Indiana, Illinois and Michigan also account for the most shipments to Ohio, according to census figures.
According to the census report, aggregates, like sand and gravel account for almost 20 percent of the total weight of all goods moved around Ohio in 2007. Food accounted for about 8 percent of the total value of all items shipped in 2007. Just less than $1 billion of coal was moved across the state in 2007, along with $800,000 million in metals.
Iddings Trucking has been in business locally since 1963 and has 73 company-owned trucks, as well as contracts with 70 more drivers who own their rigs. Including the support staff, which includes mechanics, dispatchers, bookkeepers and management, Gessel estimated the company has about 300 people on the payroll.
Gessel said 70 percent of their fleet stays local, while 30 percent is dedicated to long-haul trips.
"Really, our main service area is east of the Mississippi (River) but we'll go anywhere," he said. "That's probably true for most of the companies around here."
Jeff Starner, president of Merchants Five Star Inc., said his trucking company currently has 65 employees, mostly dedicated to hauling raw and finished materials for local industry.