Chattanooga, which is within a day's drive of over half the U.S. population, is home to two of the nation's biggest long-haul trucking companies — U.S. Xpress Enterprises and Covenant Logistics — and the country's biggest privately owned warehousing company — Kenco Logistics.
But much of the recent logistics strength that is building Chattanooga's so-called "freight alley" is coming from technology and freight brokerage businesses begun in the past decade to support the changing shipping industry.
A new list of America's fastest growing businesses by Inc. magazine identifies 10 Chattanooga companies among the list of 5,000 rapidly growing companies started in recent years. Eight of the 10 local companies on the Inc. 5000 list are in the logistics and transportation industry and another, Reliance Partners, is an insurance broker that serves the trucking industry.
Craig Fuller, whose father helped start U.S. Xpress, launched one of Chattanooga's biggest startup companies known as Freightwaves four years ago. Fuller says Chattanooga is emerging as one of the nation's freight capitals.
"This city has more people connected to logistics per capita than any other city in America, so it was only natural that Chattanooga become the Silicon Valley of Trucking," Fuller said in a recent podcast. "There's a ton of industry energy around the space that's being guided by people who have a deep understanding of how the market works."
Most of the freight brokerage companies on the Inc. list were started by or headed by former employees of Access America Transport, which began in Chattanooga in 2002 and later merged with Coyote Logistics and then was acquired by UPS.
"The founding of Access America changed the freight industry and they brought a lot of people to Chattanooga who, after the company was sold, went on to start other businesses and that has done a lot of propel this industry here," said Cindy Lee, president of LYNC Logistics, a freight brokerage firm that has grown ranked No. 786 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list. "You can find quality employees here that help you grow and that's always key to a businesses success."
For the third year in a row, Trident Transport has ranked among the top 5,000 companies in the nation with a three-year revenue growth of 768.84%. Trident was the fastest growing Chattanooga company on the Inc. list.
"We continuously see success within our company because each and every one of our employees from Chattanooga to Minneapolis to Tampa dedicate daily hard work, passion, and belief in Trident's mission," said Heath Haley, president of Trident Transport.
Trident was started in 2014 by Haley, who is chief executive officer, and Mark Harrell, who is the chief operating officer. Trident is among a half dozen freight brokerage firms that have been started in Chattanooga using former employees of Access America and Coyote Logistics.
"We set out to be one of the leading logistics providers and one of the best places to work in nation, and we've done just that," Harrell said. "We will continue to do what we do best and make the run for four years in a row in 2021."
Avenger Logistics is No. 631 on its annual Inc. 5000 list, making it the 10th fastest growing company in Tennessee just behind Trident.
"We are so excited to receive this recognition, particularly in a time when there is so much negative news in the world. This is simply a testament to the incredible work ethic of our people here at Avenger," said Jason Roberts, president of Avenger Logistics. "We are looking forward to our continued growth on our quest to become the best brokerage in the nation!"
The 2020 Inc. 5000 achieved an incredible three-year average growth of over 500 percent, and a median rate of 165 percent. The Inc. 5000's aggregate revenue was $209 billion in 2019, accounting for over 1 million jobs over the past three years.
"From health and software to media and hospitality, the 2020 list proves that no matter the sector, incredible growth is based on the foundations of tenacity and opportunism," Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk said.
The 10 Chattanooga companies on the Inc. list this year is down from 13 listed companies a year ago, but it is still up from the number of local firms on the annual Inc. lists in previous years.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.
Fastest growing businesses in Chattanooga
* Trident Transport. A freight brokerage firm founded in 2013 and headed by Heath Haley, the company has grown revenues 768% in the previous three years and ranked 609 on the Inc. list.
* Avenger Logistics. A freight brokerage firm founded in 2015 and headed by Jason Roberts, the company has grown revenues 745% in the past three years and ranked 631 on the Inc. list.
* LYNC Logistics. A freight brokerage firm founded in 2014 and headed by Cynthia Lee , the company has grown its revenues 606% in the past three years and ranked 786 on the Inc. list
* Reliance Partners. An insurance broker founded in 2009 and headed by Andrew Ladebauche, the company has grown revenues 327% in the past three years and ranked 1,366 on the Inc. list.
* Taimen Transport. A freight broker founded in 2012 and headed by Christopher Wang, the company has grown revenues by 255% in the past three years and ranked 1,683 on the Inc. list
* FitzMark. A freight brokerage firm founded in 2009 and headed by JD Davis, the company has grown revenues by 190% in the past three years and ranked 2,204 on the Inc. list.
* max trans logistics. A logistics supplier founded in 2006 and headed by Mike Mccallie, the company has grown 166% in revenues and ranks 2,482 on the Inc. list
* Conversant Group. An IT system development firm founded in 2009 and headed by John Smith, the company has grown revenues by 165% in the past three years and ranks 2,502 on the list.
* Steam Logistics. A freight brokerage company founded in 2012 and headed by Jason Provonsha, the company has grown 146% in the past three years and ranks 2,741 on the list.
* AHS Consulting. A logistics consulting firm founded in 2013 and headed by Amna Shah, the company has grown revenues 73% in the past three years and ranks 4,440 on the list.
Source: Inc. 5000, 2020 edition.