Trucking through COVID-19: PI&I Motor Express protects employees in economic freefall because ‘it’s the right thing to do’

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Joe Kerola
Joe Kerola, president of Ohio-based PI&I Motor Express, obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan to help his company meet payroll during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s a simple matter of corporate responsibility,” Joe Kerola said, referring to taking care of his employees during the current economic downturn.

The president of Ohio-based carrier PI&I Motor Express said his company is a “family” that was 67 years in the making. And families stick together when times get tough. That’s why, during the midst of the worst national economy since the Great Depression, Kerola is seeing to it that no employee is let go because of the carrier’s financial performance.

PI&I, flatbed hauler of steel, pipe, and industrial raw materials, has more than 400 employees working in all aspects of company operations and an equal number of trucks and trailers in its fleet.

“We primarily carry raw materials on flatbeds for use in industry,” Kerola said.

For example, PI&I hauls a lot of steel from Pennsylvania and the Midwest to automobile manufactures in Detroit. Likewise, the company serves oil companies, delivering pipe and drilling supplies across the country. Oil and automobile manufacturing are important indicators of the strength of the nation’s economy, and Kerola has learned that when the two industries experience financial difficulties, the trickle-down leads to PI&I in short order.

Kerola is a big fan of the CARES Act. He is also a beneficiary of the economic stimulus program as a recipient of a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan intended to keep small businesses from laying off employees.

Not only has PPP provided Kerola an opportunity to help stimulate the economy, but it has also allowed him to avoid placing a financial burden on a staff that’s already overwhelmed with impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

PPP funds included in the CARES Act are intended to support small businesses through low-interest and potentially forgivable loans, provided the businesses use funding to sustain salaries, wages and jobs. The program also shortens unemployment lines and ensures businesses are ready to resume normal activities as the economy improves. After just two weeks, loans depleted the initial $350 billion provided for PPP. Congress and President Trump responded in late April with another $310 billion.

“I wanted to avoid layoffs,” Kerola said. “The loan covers eight weeks of personnel costs for 400 PI&I employees.”

True to Kerola’s word, he hasn’t laid off a single employee.

“We wouldn’t have been able to withstand a 30% decrease in demand and revenue without PPP,” Kerola said, adding that PI&I remained busy through the month of March, but as demand for products slowed, so did the need for raw materials. By mid-April, the company experienced a drastic decrease in business.

“Low fuel prices help, but we supply companies that drill for oil,” Kerola said. “When oil prices drop, they don’t drill, and they don’t need us to deliver drilling supplies.”

The same holds true with automobile manufacturers, he said. When fewer cars are built, demand for steel decreases, and the need for PI&I to haul the raw material used to build cars falls as well.”

Kerola is grateful for what PPP has allowed him to do for his employees. People are facing enough problems beyond their control, he said. PPP relieves a burden on employees and government programs.

“By taking advantage of PPP, we aren’t burdening an unemployment system already overwhelmed,” Kerola said.

While PI&I Motor Express is just one company, Kerola understands the importance that businesses accepting PPP loans use them for their intended purpose.

“It’s a simple matter of corporate responsibility,” Kerola stated.

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