ROCHESTER, Minn. — Eric Lawrence, owner of a fourth-generation Rochester, Minnesota, trucking business, is worried. He has a dozen trucks right now that don't have drivers.
And there's enough demand for hauling meat, cheese and other refrigerated items right now that his business could grow as much as 15 to 20% if he had enough drivers.
But he doesn't.
It's one sign for him of an industry in turmoil.
He and other trucking CEOs also fret about a shortage of technicians, laborers and trucks, rising wages and fuel costs, and increased regulation.
Lawrence, owner of a 150-fleet business, said the shortage is being driven or exacerbated by government benefits that are essentially compensating people "to stay at home."
"It's absolutely frightening," Lawrence said. "I ran this business through '08 and '09. I've been through some tough times. And what I see coming is just absolutely frightening."
Lawrence was one of several speakers at a small business event Monday, Sept. 13, put on by the Job Creators Network, a nonprofit organization founded by The Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. The event also honored Congressman Jim Hagedorn with JCN's "Defender of Small Business" award.
Supporters say that small businesses are the backbone of the local economy. While Mayo Clinic's size often overshadows the area employment landscape, one in three jobs in the area come from small businesses, said Kathleen Harrington, former president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.
While many small businesses were able to keep their doors open thanks to the Payroll Protection Act, the current recovery is fragile and small businesses are at risk. It is vital, Harrington said, that governments at all levels comb through regulations and ask, "What's absolutely necessary."
"We have to keep on a path to recovery rather than taking a turn which we're headed for, with this increased costs, combined with the workforce shortage," she said.
Hagedorn praised small businesses, saying "it's incredible what they do" and that they often go unappreciated. He said the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed under former President Donald Trump was "very important" because it helped farmers and small businesses.
"Don't listen to people on the left," Hagedorn said. "They say it was just for the rich. It wasn't. It helped a lot of people and a lot of employees. It did it by getting rid of a lot of regulation at the federal level."
Hagedorn also cited a recent survey that said that 50% of small businesses in the country are looking for workers.
Steve Yaggy, owner of Rochester's Steve Yaggy Trucking and chairman of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said the prospect of a rising minimum wage is also adding pressure on trucking businesses even as they cope with rising costs on fuel and equipment.
''We can hardly keep up with people wanting increases and matches," Yaggy said. "As a family company like ours, we try to take care of our people. But this wage thing is really really something."