By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
IN 1906, J.V. McNICHOLAS PULLED HIS HORSE- drawn wagon up to the railroad tracks along the banks of the Mahoning River for the first time. He must have wondered what the future would bring.
After all, he had just left his job at the steel mill, borrowed 100 from his mother and bought two horses and two wagons so he could deliver goods that were unloaded from the trains in downtown Youngstown.
He was gambling that freight hauling had a bright future. That boldness paid off for McNicholas and for thousands of others throughout the United States.
His humble, one-person, two-wagon company eventually grew into four local transportation businesses that operate 9,000 trucks and trailers and employ 3,000 people across the country, including 1,100 in this area.
The companies are based in the Mahoning Valley but the following shows their wide reach:
Falcon Transport of Austintown delivers supplies to auto and steel plants in 38 states.
Comprehensive Logistics of Austintown manages the transportation needs for all of General Motors' stand-alone stamping plants.
AIM Nationalease of Liberty delivers much of the food used by airlines in the U.S. It is one of two companies hired by a distributor that supplies 80 percent of the industry from warehouses in Chicago and Phoenix.
*Carney-McNicholas of Austintown moved 60,000 large-bound books for the state of Louisiana's archives agency this summer. The books were taken from the convention center to a refurbished office site downtown.
All four companies are owned by descendants of McNicholas or those who married into the family. These executives are actively managing the companies and living in the Valley.
Big things have been expected all along at the family company. The original business, McNicholas Transfer Co., grew quickly as the young industrial town flourished. By 1918, J.V. McNicholas had bought a fleet of trucks to replace his wagons.
After this strong start, his son Henry took over and saw that delivering supplies to steel mills and car plants would provide an even bigger opportunity. Henry McNicholas changed the name of the company to McNicholas Transportation and invested in a larger fleet of trucks and government transportation licenses that were needed back then.
The executives that run the family businesses today gathered for an interview recently and all agreed that it was Henry McNicholas' vision that allowed them to create the companies they have today. He died in 1999.
"We all looked to Henry as our mentor," said Joe Fleming, a nephew of Henry's and vice president of Comprehensive Logistics.
"He was a bright guy," said Don Constantini, president of Falcon, who married Henry's daughter, Kathy.
"Intense would be a good word to describe him," Fleming added.
"And demanding," said Tom Fleming, Joe's brother and president of AIM.
"And he had a strategic vision," Constantini said.
McNicholas also gave the younger generation responsibility within the company.
Tom and Joe Fleming recalled being asked by their uncle to develop a computer database that kept track of the mileage on truck routes, so they wouldn't have to be figured by hand with a map and ruler.
"We told him it would be hard, and he said, 'I didn't ask you about hard. Go back and work some more,' " Tom Fleming said.
With their uncle's prodding, they developed a system that worked so well that they now think they missed a business opportunity by not selling the system to other companies.
The direction of McNicholas Transportation changed in the 1970s as Henry McNicholas began to decrease his involvement in the business.
He created AIM Nationalease in 1976 as a truck leasing division of the company. In 1977, he decided the residential moving business didn't fit with the rest of the operation, so he offered it to Greg and T.J. Carney, who are great-grandsons of J.V. McNicholas.
The biggest change, however, came in 1981 and 1982 when the Teamsters called a strike against McNicholas Transportation. The trucking industry had just been deregulated in 1980, and McNicholas had informed the union that it had to find ways to lower labor costs because it was easier for smaller, nonunion companies to enter the industry.
As the strike continued, the family members decided to break apart the company. Tom Fleming acquired AIM, while Constantini created a separate trucking business, Falcon Transportation.
Falcon acquired its own trucks and labor force and then obtained hauling work by using its previous business contacts.
While the leaders of each of the companies are thankful for the start given them by J.V. and Henry McNicholas, they all have worked to turn the companies into national brands.
Here's how the companies have been expanding lately:
The trucking company has established a national reputation among automakers, having earned four GM Supplier of the Year Awards, four Chrysler Gold Pentastar Awards and the Ford Motor Company Service Award. About 40 percent of its business is delivering supplies to auto plants.
In 2002, however, Falcon created a division to deliver consumer goods to retailers. It is considering expanding its work with customers such as Proctor & amp; Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Sherwin Williams.
The biggest challenge, however, & ordm;isn't finding enough work; it's finding enough drivers, Constantini said. Even with annual pay between 40,000 and 60,000, the company can't fill all of its openings because people don't want to work a job where they are away from home, he said.
Falcon's biggest move came in 1995 when it created Comprehensive Logistics to manage the transportation needs of manufacturers.
The opportunity came because auto and steel companies didn't want to invest in the technology required to manage freight and they were losing their transportation expertise as workers retired.
One of Comprehensive's plants is in Austintown, where it handles about 75 percent of the parts that are shipped to GM's Lordstown complex for the assembly of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5. The Austintown plant arranges the parts so they can be sent out just as the assembly plant needs them. Trucks leave for Lordstown every 20 minutes.
The next step for Comprehensive could be managing international shipments. The company is starting to bid on work that would involve shipping auto parts made in foreign countries to the United States and vice versa.
Growth for both Falcon and Comprehensive seem certain, Constantini said. First, more companies are looking to outsource transportation services, and the local companies have assembled the technology and expertise to be a major player.
"The opportunities sometimes seem like they're endless," he said.
Falcon and Comprehensive employ 1,800 people, including 700 in this area.
Aim National Lease
This company is known locally for its truck leasing and maintenance operations, with locations in Liberty and Sharon, Pa. Its reach is much wider, however.
Not only does it have branches in 13 states but it also has expertise that goes beyond leasing and maintenance.
Like Falcon, AIM has branched into logistics and arranges the transportation needs for a variety of big-name firms.
Two of those companies are brewers in Colorado. At a Coors brewery, AIM manages all the truck traffic inside the complex.
For an Anheuser-Busch brewery, it ships beer to distributors in eight states and also arranges for cans and bottles to be delivered just as they are needed on the bottling line.
Tom Fleming said the company will continue to grow because manufacturers now see distribution as a specialty that requires technology and expertise in order to be done efficiently.
"Our biggest limitation to growth is finding people, both drivers and technicians," Fleming said.
AIM has four full-time recruiters, while Falcon has a dozen.
AIM employs 1,000, including about 400 locally.
This residential moving company has been all about growth for the past 20 years.
Carney-McNicholas bought a Canton moving company in 1986 and then opened an office in the Cleveland area in 1994. The Cleveland office expanded so quickly that the company sold its United Van Lines franchise for the Canton area to an employee in 2002.
The Cleveland office does about two-thirds of the company's business and most of that work is in nonhousehold items. The office moves electronics and medical supplies throughout the continental United States for companies that are relocating offices or setting up trade shows. It also has handled the moving for three military bases.
One niche expertise the company has developed is moving library collections. In the past three years, it has moved about 15 million books for 130 libraries that have been renovating or moving into new facilities.
Carney-McNicholas also has acquired a fine arts transportation company in Kipton, Ohio, and has bought a Go Minis franchise, which provides storage units that people can load at their homes and have them transported later.
Tom Carney, a former state legislator and Mahoning County commissioner, is chairman of the company. His sons run the daily operations, with T.J. overseeing the Cleveland office and Greg handling the Austintown office.
The company has 30 employees and 30 contract workers, including 10 employees and eight contract workers in Austintown.
The family members leading these companies today are preparing the next generation, just as Henry McNicholas worked with them.
At Falcon and Comprehensive Logistics, Constantini's sons are working alongside their father. Mark Constantini, 38, and Brad Constantini, 36, are both senior vice presidents.
At AIM, Tom Fleming's sons also are involved. Scott Fleming, 29, heads up sales in the company's Denver office, while Geoffrey Fleming, 23, is a maintenance administrator in Girard.
Joe Fleming's sons Kevin and Dan branched off on their own in 2004 and created Fleming Leasing, which has two offices in suburban Washington, D.C.
At Carney-McNicholas, T.J. Carney's son John is a local operations dispatcher in Austintown. The 24-year-old is the fifth-generation to be involved in the family business.