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Old Dominion Freight Line

The new terminal under construction for Old Dominion Freight Line on South Frontage Road in Billings will have 61 bays featuring the latest dock management and Internet tools to maximize its freight hauling productivity.

In Billings, the number of freight shipments have tripled since one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. bought out a Montana business five years ago.

That means the freight hauler has far outgrown its in-town terminal at 4300 State Ave.

So, Old Dominion — which purchased Bob’s Pickup and Delivery — is building a $7 million facility just east of South Billings Boulevard.

“It’s a great location right off I-90, right next to an exit,” said Chuck Powell, Old Dominion’s vice president for the Pacific Northwest region. His company looked for six months for suitable land along Interstate 90 before choosing the site just behind Intermountain Distributing.

The Bakken oil boom has significantly boosted the trucking company’s business in Sidney and Williston, N.D., Powell said, but the growth in Billings is only partially due to oil. The difference is that Old Dominion, based in Thomasville, N.C., attracts national, as opposed to a regional, clients.

“We’re almost a $2 billion company. We’re 100 times the size of Bob’s,” Powell said. “Billings also has become a bigger hub for freight moving from Minneapolis to Fargo across I-90 up to Spokane and Seattle. That business didn’t exist before with Bob’s.”

Old Dominion operates 215 service centers and is the sixth-largest LTL — less than a full load — carrier in the United States.

Last week, employees of Salt Lake City-based Furst Construction Co., Inc., started tilting up the terminal’s concrete walls. The new terminal will have 61 bays, more than double the current count.

With LTL loads, one Old Dominion

truck carries goods bound for different customers. Like FedEx, packages are shipped to a local hub and sorted for delivery. Unlike FedEx, Old Dominion shipments are big, averaging 1,000 pounds.

The company’s slogan is “99 percent on-time service,” but with just 26 bays at State Avenue, unloading and repacking was inefficient, Powell said.

At the new terminal, a truck will be able to unload at one bay and reload at another, if necessary. All bays will be hooked up to the latest dock management and Internet tools, so the 60 employees can be more productive, he said.

“Modern technology in that new building will be much more similar to an iPhone than a pager,” Powell said.

When the terminal on 13 acres is completed, 20 trucks during the day and 20 at night will move in and out, Powell said.

Billings has seen significant expansion in truck terminals recently.

Although it is in the business of fixing and selling trucks, not hauling freight, Montana Peterbilt also is moving out of its home just east of the downtown area. Peterbilt is building a new $4 million to $5 million facility in Lockwood near the intersection of Interstates 90 and 94.

Last year, FedEx Freight moved out of its cramped location near the Phillips 66 refinery and built a new facility off Interstate 90, east of the Zoo Drive exit.

And in 2006, Whitewood Transport moved from downtown Billings into a new facility by Interstate 90 and the Shiloh interchange.

Whitewood owner Mike Wilson, who just bought out his long-term partner John Hanson, said Billings is a growing trucking hub. This city sits at the junction of interstates 90 and 94 just four hours east of Interstate 15 in Butte, an increasingly popular highway connecting Canada and Mexico.

“It’s a tremendous intersection for commerce and all these companies are figuring it out,” Wilson said.

Barry “Spook” Stang, executive director of Motor Carriers of Montana in Helena, said the national economy continues to improve and that’s helping trucking.

Local trucking companies don’t share their revenue numbers with Stang, but he said he’s noticed more trucks driving on Montana highways.

“I can tell you because of the activity going on in the Bakken, a lot of the LTL guys are moving lots of freight over there,” he said. “The downside of that is it harder to find truck drivers.”

Michigan-based carrier Con-Way Freight, which started business in Billings 13 years ago, has grown from four employees to 53 workers, with 30 semi-tractor trailers at its facility at 901 Fourth Ave. N.

Terminal manager Marv Besel couldn’t say what percentage of freight business the oil industry contributes.

“We’ve been strong even through the downturn and I think that’s just because of Billings and Montana being strong,” he said.

Later this month, Con-Way, which has been serving the Bakken out of Fargo, N.D., is starting “next day” service from Billings to Williston, N.D.

Meanwhile, Old Dominion’s regional vice president was scouting out land in late August for a new terminal around Sidney to better serve the oil fields.

Powell said his company will stay in Montana.

“The buzz on the North Dakota side is they are really struggling to find people, so Sidney is a positive for us,” he said.

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Business editor for the Billings Gazette.