"We're hauling everything from raw materials to finished goods, so we're the entire supply chain," Costello said. "It's a great reflection of the tangible economy, everything that's manufactured, wholesaled and retailed. You can't put services in the back of a truck."
Trucking shares rose to a record last month. The Bloomberg U.S. Trucking Index of 24 companies including J.B. Hunt Transport Services and C.H. Robinson Worldwide closed at 125.12 on Jan. 28, the highest in almost two decades of history after advancing 24 percent from last year's low of 101.02 in August.
Listings for truckers showed the biggest increase last year among 31 occupations, according to JobDig, operator of the LinkUp.com job search engine that matches drivers with companies. The 12,472 new listings and 34,104 total positions posted in the fourth quarter both more than tripled from first quarter levels, according to data from the Minneapolis-based firm, which tracks openings at 25,000 firms.
JobDig Chief Executive Officer Toby Dayton said some trucking firms are turning down business because of driver shortages. They are paying higher salaries, offering signing bonuses and paying for training, certification and licensing for new drivers, he said.
"They know that wages are going to have to go up in this area if they want to get their trucks on the road," Dayton said. "They literally have trucks sitting in lots that aren't moving and they've got to turn down jobs if they can't get drivers for 17 trucks that they have in St. Cloud, Minn. There's a very high level of frustration."
Some companies are paying bonuses of as much as $5,000 for drivers who stay for at least a year and are even starting their own training programs, said Charles Clowdis, managing director of transportation advisory services at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. He sees the need for recruits in newspaper ads and on the air.