Arkansas businessman moves to top of trucking industry

Williams, founder of Maverick Transportation, lives in Beebe and Colorado

By Rainer Sabin
Associated Press Writer

===Trucking has defined Steve Williams' life. In Columbia, Mo., he grew up in a family that made a living off hauling materials across county roads and highways.
=== By the time he was 29, he founded a company in central Arkansas that has become one of the biggest in an industry based on transportation and logistics.
=== Now Williams, 51, who heads Maverick Transportation company in North Little Rock and has homes in Beebe and Colorado, is one of the foremost advocates of the nationwide trucking community. Last October, he was named chairman of the American Trucking Association, an organization that represents the interests of the industry. He is the first Arkansas resident to be elected to the top position of the ATA since its founding in 1933.
=== Terms for ATA chairmen last one year. Williams has been described by his peers as progressive. He stands out in a community that is for the most part conservative.
=== In the past, he has supported Democrats, such as former president Bill Clinton and Massachu-setts Democrat John Kerry, who lost a bid for the White House. Williams also has thrown his weight behind efforts to reduce air pollution and develop more environmentally safe truck engines.
=== "He understands and advocates change," said Robert Young, chief executive officer of Arkansas Best, a Fort Smith-based trucking firm. "He is not afraid to take unpopular positions and swing them around. He is effective at that. "I may not like everything he does, but he will do what he thinks is best for the trucking industry," Yount added.
=== For Williams, that means incorporating the knowledge he gathered working in Arkansas to help him achieve an ambitious agenda. Williams started his company with one truck and quickly built up the business. By 2003, it generated revenues of $130 million and currently employs 1,189 people.
=== But Williams hasn't had much time to come back to Arkansas to oversee his company since he assumed his new role with the ATA. Williams will be traveling around the country promoting trucking nationwide and addressing issues that affect the industry, including federal legislation in the Senate that would give states the authority to toll interstates and make other changes to the federal highway system. Williams said he was steadfastly against the bill.
=== "It violates the trust in how we are going to fund highways in the country," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Colorado. While Williams said he would prefer states issue a fuel tax like the one that was used to fund the program that fixed some of Arkansas' most trafficked highways, he does not necessarily agree with Huckabee's plan to focus on repairing secondary roads.
=== "In Arkansas, we have many pressing issues and priorities," he said. "It's important that we concentrate resources on lanes of greater use and of strategic importance to moving commerce."
=== Gov. Mike Huckabee has said he wants his $1 billion highway package to be approved by the state Legislature this session and plans to raise fuel taxes and increase driver-related fees to finance the $90 million to $100 million needed to get bonds for the new construction.
=== "Getting things to the interstate is now the critical issue," Huckabee said. "It's great to have the interstates. But if you're not on one and you are in Crossett or El Dorado, you want to have a route to get your products to that interstate and from that interstate."
=== Williams, who was president of the Arkansas Trucking Association three times, said his focus nationally is on tort reform for liability lawsuits against truckers and a bigger infrastructure for ground transportation of goods.
=== He has eight months to get what he wants accomplished in an industry that is not used to people who like to stir it up.