HAMPDEN, Maine — A local flatbed trucking company that was founded 23 years ago and grew into the largest company of its kind in Maine soon will close its doors, leaving more than 100 employees without jobs.
Lenny Peters, founder of Carlen Transport Inc., said Tuesday the decision was made over the weekend. He informed employees, most of them commercial truck drivers, on Monday.
“It’s a sad day for us,” he said. “We had a good company with a lot of good people. This is going to have a big impact on a lot of families.”
Peters blamed the down economy for forcing the company into an impossible situation. He had been trying to tough it out for several months, but Carlen Transport was simply losing too much money.
“It costs us $1.50 per mile to operate our trucks, and we’ve been receiving $1.42 per mile. So, we’re losing 8 cents a mile on every mile we run,” he said.
Peters explained that nearly all of Carlen’s contracts are fixed-price agreements with very little wiggle room. As fuel and maintenance costs have continued to increase, the profit margin has shrunk accordingly, and he can’t go back to those contracted companies for more money.
Carlen will end its leases on 112 flatbed trucks, but will keep its property, where Peters also owns and operates Carlen Service Center Inc., a truck retail and maintenance company. That business will remain open, but Peters said he’ll be able to keep only a handful of workers.
Peters and his wife, Carol, founded their firm in 1983 with one 45-foot flatbed truck. Several years later, the company began hauling freight for several major corporations, including The Home Depot, Bath Iron Works and Georgia-Pacific. This year, Carlen trucks operated in all 48 contiguous states.
“We’re tied very closely to the building and construction industry, and it’s been soft,” Peters said. “We’ve tried to hold out hope that the economy will get better, but all indications were that we didn’t expect that to happen. We got caught up in the recession and couldn’t recover.”
Hampden Town Manager Sue Lessard said any loss of business is huge, not just for its employees but for the entire community.
“It means fewer jobs and all sorts of other negative things. We were saddened to learn that this was necessary,” she said.
The trucking industry is one of many that has been crippled by the weak national economy. Arrow Trucking of Tulsa, Okla., recently laid off about 200 workers and stranded many throughout the country in the midst of their deliveries.
Peters said that won’t happen with Carlen employees.
“When [Arrow] closed, it was an absolute disaster,” he said. “They had no money to pay fuel; drivers were stuck all over the country. We didn’t want that to happen to us.”
In fact, Peters said he timed the company’s closure around the Christmas holiday because most of his trucks were off the road anyway.
“They know how bad things are,” Peters said of his drivers. “But that doesn’t make it any easier.”