DECATUR — Considering a career as a truck driver? You're in the right place, according to a new study.
The report released this week by business insurance resource AdvisorSmith ranks Decatur as the fifth-best small city in the U.S. for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers' salaries and jobs. Economic leaders and those involved in the trucking industry say the recognition is another sign that the area is a rich target for aspiring truck drivers — and that the Decatur economy is headed in the right direction.
"I think it's another sign of what we're seeing in Decatur with our local economy," said Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Decatur and Macon County.
The study ranked 384 U.S. cities to determine the most attractive places for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. Decatur was assessed as part of the small city group, which included municipalities with 150,000 residents or fewer. Criteria analyzed as part of the report included truck driver salaries, the cost of living and availability of jobs.
The average annual salary for a truck driver in Decatur is $46,920 — 3% more than the national average, the study said. Decatur hosts 62% more jobs for truck drivers on a per-capita basis compared to the U.S. average.
When stacked up against medium and large cities, Decatur came in at No. 11 nationally. Danville, Illinois, ranked second overall.
"Obviously, driving a truck is a fantastic job, and it's a great way to make a living wage in Illinois and in towns like Danville and Decatur," said Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association.
The news comes as industry leaders say the country is experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. In a report released last month, the American Trucking Association said the industry was short roughly 60,800 drivers at the end of last year. It said the shortage could exceed 160,000 by 2028 if current trends continue.
The organization said a number of factors are driving the shortage, chief among them a relatively high average age of the existing workforce. The industry also has struggled to attract some segments of the population — fewer than 7% of drivers last year were women — and for some people, the lifestyle of spending days or weeks on the road is unappealing.
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There are nearly 2 million truck driver jobs in the U.S., and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the number of jobs are growing at a 6 percent rate from 2016 to 2026. Over 300,000 of these jobs are located in Illinois, which Hart said is a vital state for truck drivers because goods from manufacturing plants and agricultural companies can be to transported to several cities in a one-day drive.
"I think the other thing that's key is the fact Decatur and Central Illinois has a strong workforce," Hart said. "That's really important to note too."
Richland Community College offers classes for students to earn a Commercial Driver's License, which can be completed in four weeks during full-time classes or eight weeks during part-time classes. Program coordinator Nick Gorenz said Richland is constantly busy training new students and they're very lucky to have almost immediate or immediate job opportunities.
"They could go to a local job if they want," he said. "The pay is definitely on the upper scale, and they're good companies."
McCrady said truck drivers are an "absolutely critical component" to the area's economy.
Citing the data, he said that if someone can make a wage higher than the national average in a city with a low cost of living, "that's a good combo."