“We have constantly taken the opportunity to invest money back into the company. This loan was very important to us to be able to do so.”
The trucks have been at it all day, hauling rock and sand and who knows what else, across the piedmont of North Carolina and far beyond. When they pull into the Kerns Trucking facility in the town of Grover, their diesel engines rumble. Workers in boots and worn trousers pull the rigs into a wash facility and begin to spray away a day’s labor.
Water and soap run off the trucks, into a special drain where the water, soap, and oil are separated—the hazardous materials separated from water that can be reused.
“We felt like it was the right thing to do—try to be green, try to be clean,” says Clyde Kerns, the third generation president of this Cleveland County company. “Most people are just washing ’em out and putting it into the ground. We’re trying to capture all that correctly.”
The wash pit was a $65,000 investment, an expense Kerns didn’t have to make. It—and some of the shiny Peterbilt dump trucks that pass through it on a regular basis—came at a cost, one that wouldn’t have been attainable without a public-private partnership to increase the trucking company’s access to capital.
And, importantly, it was the right thing to do—a value that the Kerns family has held dear for eight decades.
“We’ve prided ourselves in being able to treat people right, treat people fair, do the right thing.”
Clyde Kerns is proud of his family business.
Kerns Trucking has three principal divisions: the local sand and gravel dump truck business that has been around the longest, an over-the-road dump truck fleet that handles long-haul trips across state lines, and a wholesale business.
Clyde’s grandfather and great uncle founded Kerns Trucking in 1933. His father, Johnny, took over in 1970. Clyde and his brother, Butch, became the owners in 1998. Now Clyde is the full owner, grooming the next generation of leaders; his daughter Alyson joined the business in 2010, and his son Clay came on board five years later.
The company’s website features grainy photos, some in faded black-and-white, of dump trucks with their beds tilted back and workers in overalls standing, proudly, alongside. Kerns Trucking has come a long way since those early days, but as Clyde puts it, the values haven’t changed a bit.
“Kerns Trucking is not Clyde Kerns. Or my son and my daughter now. Nor was it my grandfather, my great uncle, my father, or my brother. It’s that group of men and women we’ve been able to surround ourselves with.”
“Kerns Trucking is not Clyde Kerns,” he says. “Or my son and my daughter now. Nor was it my grandfather, my great uncle, my father, or my brother. It’s that group of men and women we’ve been able to surround ourselves with.”
Today, that group numbers 135 employees, growth stimulated through an expansion Clyde kicked off in 2015. “We needed some capital infusion,” he recalls. Clyde wanted to grow the company’s physical footprint by more than 10 percent, add the truck washing pit, and purchase 15 additional vehicles. “We obviously didn’t have enough free cash from profits to do it all ourselves, so we needed some help to enable us to do that.”
Clyde met with Glenn Poole, a commercial banker at the Charlotte office of First National Bank, about a loan. Together, they decided to take advantage of the Loan Participation Program (LPP), a fund created by the U.S. Treasury Department through its State’s Small Business Credit Initiative, and managed by the NC Rural Center in all 100 North Carolina counties. It’s designed to help address access to capital for small companies in the state. Through LPP, the Rural Center buys participations in loans made by banks or Community Development Financial Institutions, in effect mitigating some of the risk involved and allowing the lender to make loans that need support. The Rural Center has partnered on more than 350 LPP loans with 22 different lenders located throughout the state of North Carolina.
“I’ve been in the lending business for over 35 years and I can tell you it’s one of my best experiences to see this family work together as a team,” Poole says. Clyde’s steady hand through the recession nearly a decade ago helped convince Poole to work with Kerns Trucking. “I made my decision based on the individuals involved. A seasoned lender can tell right away that this company will be successful through the ups and downs of what is thrown at you.”
“I’ve been in the lending business for over 35 years and I can tell you it’s one of my best experiences to see this family work together as a team.”
Clyde has plenty thrown at him on a daily basis: clients all across the country with important deadlines, keeping drivers safe, dealing with the kind of mechanical issues that tend to happen with big rigs. “Truck lost an air compressor today, fully loaded, 50 miles away,” Clyde says, offering an example. “Obviously we had to safely get that truck to a safe location, get that truck repaired, get another tractor. It’s a constant manipulation of various facts. No two are the same. No two days are alike.”
And that’s before you take into consideration the financial side of the company.
The LPP increased the amount First National could lend: a seven-figure, five-year loan that enabled Kerns to add the 15 new dump trucks, 2,500 square feet of space, and the wash pit. Adding the trucks alone created 15 new jobs for drivers, and Clyde says it better positioned the company for its future. “You have to invest in your company,” he says. “I could pay myself some wonderful bonuses and not put any money back. But I’m very content, very well blessed.” He laughs. “I don’t need to get me a second or third house. That’s just not us.”
It was important to the Kerns family, and also to the non-family company leadership, to pay back the loan as quickly as possible. Clyde says that will happen two years ahead of schedule. “It was sure enough nice to have because we wouldn’t have been able to expand or add what we needed to at the time,” he says.
For Poole, the commercial banker who continues to work with Kerns Trucking, it’s gratifying to see a small business such as this one position itself for the future. “It’s very hard for a third generation family to survive,” he says. “But this family has done it with strong leadership.”