Date: Jul 11, 2019 Author: Dan O'Vrien Source: Lowell Sun (
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Jim Ray, co-founder of Lowell-based Fastport, LLC, says "truckers were my heroes" while growing up. Ray's company was recently recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for its prowess in matching returning soldiers with jobs in the transportation industry. AP FILE PHOTO Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
LOWELL -- A Wannalancit Mill-based startup has been recognized for its prowess in matching military veterans returning from service to high-paying jobs in the trucking industry.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation said Fastport, LLC, was recently awarded the 4th Annual "Hiring Our Heroes" Capital One Small Business Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Award. The award recognizes dedication to addressing the challenges faced by veterans and military spouses in their search for meaningful employment.
"There is a huge shortage of commercial drivers and there is about 700,000 veterans who are underemployed," said Fastport CEO Bill McLennan, during an interview last week at Fastport's spartan headquarters (the most prominent piece of furniture is the hefty trophy the company won) at the Wannalancit. "The truth is, the trucking industry is a great match for values and core skills that our nation's military have. So it's a great industry for our servicemen and women to get into.
"We think of ourselves as the on-ramp for veterans to get into the trucking industry."
Privately-held Fastport is a technology company that has developed an online marketplace for commercial drivers to find jobs with trucking companies. Its flagship product is a software program called "JobMaps," which enables efficient job searching for a driver seeking a new employment opportunity.
McLennan, who served six years in the Marines, said candidates for commercial trucking jobs, even with no direct experience, can start at $45,000 per year; those who do have experience (including in the military) can earn $55,000 to $60,000.
Rather than representing one company, Fastport represents the entire trucking industry (including such big players as J.B Hunt, Airgas, Maverick, Com-Way and Ryder), and works to demystify that industry for soldiers searching for their next opportunities. The company utilizes what it calls a "Trucking Track Mentoring Program," which in three months facilitated 1,500 mentor connections and more than 500 job applications submitted to member companies.
Fastport, which employs just five people at its headquarters, and fewer than 100 throughout the country, was co-founded three years ago by Chicago native Jim Ray.
"Growing up, truckers were my heroes," Ray said, noting that his grandfather and father both drove big rigs.
Ray, however, had a knack for technology, and founded his first technology-based logistics company in 2000. He went on to build several brokerage and trucking companies, the largest of which he sold in 2009 to the financiers of Groupon.com.
Along the way, Ray earned a law degree.
"I found that the regulations in this industry are so complex, and are different from state to state, it comes in handy," he said.
In 2013, the Hiring Our Heroes program chose Fastport's technology and leadership to help transition veterans into careers within the transportation industry. McLennan explained the partnership called for Fastport to help solve two big employment issues:
* Veteran unemployment and under-employment
* A critical shortage of commercial truck drivers
Fastport's Trucking Track Mentor Program has engaged 12 trucking industry leaders to provide mentors available to veterans online to discuss career opportunities (including truckers and mechanics), as well as informational content and videos for veterans to learn about trucking careers and why veterans are a great fit for them.
In a followup note, McLennan said hiring commitments total 24,500 to date.
Launched by the U.S. Chamber Foundation in 2011, Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.
"Fastport has shown tremendous dedication to recruiting, retaining and advancing talented veterans and military spouses into the trucking industry," said Eric Eversole, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in a statement. "Beyond that, this company has also demonstrated a willingness to work with others and proactively share best practices."
Fastport was chosen from a field of 22 finalists. Winners were selected by the Hiring Our Heroes Awards Committee, with judging based on such criteria as innovative recruiting and retention strategies, military community engagement and leadership, as well as an ongoing commitment to hire veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses.
"We're humbled by this award," McLennan said. "It's a confirmation that we're making a difference."