“ERL Intermodal is in the driver’s seat”
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. — William Shakespeare
UTICA — In Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” the heroine argues that Romeo’s last name shouldn’t be an impediment to their marriage. After all, what difference does a name make?
All the difference in the world if you ask the principals at the former Empire Recycling Logistics Corp. “When our potential customers heard or saw our name, they couldn’t get past the word ‘recycling’,” asserts Steven R. Kowalsky, the president of the enterprise’s holding company — Empire Recycling Corp. “One of our businesses is in intermodal freight, hauling containers by truck to and from ports in the Greater New York–New Jersey metro area. The original name was definitely a hindrance to our growth.”
Ignoring Juliet’s admonition, Empire Recycling Logistics recently changed its name to ERL Intermodal Corp. “Our new name should be immediately recognizable,” says Steve Sperbeck, the general manager of the trucking company. “We are the largest intermodal-freight company headquartered in Upstate with 35 tractors; 100 trailers that can handle 20-, 40-, and 45-foot containers; and a staff of 42 … [of whom] 37 are located here in Utica. When Empire Recycling bought Lightning Fast Freight in 2011, the fleet consisted of 23 trucks. Over the next five years, we added four more trucks. Just in the last year, our fleet grew by 30 percent, and our customer list has grown from the original five (in 2011) to 30. We handle so many containers now that the company had to lease five acres nearby to accommodate the volume … The round-trip to the port and back is approximately 500 miles, which means each truck is traveling 125,000 miles a year. Multiply that by 35 trucks and the fleet is logging more than four-million miles a year. ERL Intermodal only hauls 10 to 12 loads a month for Empire Recycling, so the growth is coming from an expanding customer base.”
The name change became official in September 2017. “Changing the name is just one part of our rebranding campaign to promote the company,” avers Kowalsky. “ERL is in a strong position to grow. We provide same-day or overnight inbound and outbound deliveries to and from all of the New York/New Jersey ports from anywhere in the state. Intermodal also offers rail drayage, full truckloads, flatbed service and walking floors, and expedited service. All of our trucks are equipped with GPS tracking systems to assure that loads are in transit and on-time.”
ERL Intermodal is also prepared for the new electronic-logging rule that became effective on Dec. 18, 2017. “The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) is now requiring all over-the-road freight carriers to install electronic monitors to replace the written logs truckers have maintained for decades,” notes Sperbeck. “The ELDs (electronic-logging devices) track the HOS (hours-of-service) of all drivers to ensure they comply with federal law. I think the cost of the ELDs and the restrictions of the regulations will drive some of the older, best-qualified drivers into retirement and make it more difficult for owner-operators and smaller fleets to compete. (Estimates suggest the cost of ELDs could add $2-billion to the industry’s operating expenses. In 2017, the FMCSA imposed fines of more than $266,000,000 for HOS violations.) … We have worked hard to attract and retain drivers, many of whom have been with us for years. The hiring process isn’t easy, because each job-candidate has to have a qualified license, be tested for controlled-substances, provide a medical certificate verifying good health, and demonstrate a safe-driving history. That disqualifies a lot of applicants.”
ERL Intermodal is poised for continued growth. The company is financially strong, dominates its market, has an experienced workforce, markets aggressively, and invests in technology to control its costs. Economic trends spending roughly one dollar for fuel for every mile you drive and your fleet surpasses four-million miles a year, that’s a huge savings.” Fourth, President Trump is proposing a $1-trillion infrastructure program, some of which is designated for improving the nation’s highways and upgrading port facilities. While the final shape of legislation is not clear yet, it seems probable that Republicans and Democrats will come together to invest in America’s infrastructure.
Sperbeck joined Empire recycling in 2008 as a logistics supervisor of their recycling-truck division. He was born and raised in Marcy and graduated from Whitesboro High School in 1988. His transportation career began in 1994 as a supervisor/dispatcher with Walmart Transportation. In 2001, Sperbeck joined Lily Transportation as the operations manager and left in 2008 to work at Empire Recycling Corp. Five years later, Kowalsky designated him as the general manager of Empire Recycling Logistics. Sperbeck is married to his wife Lisa, and the couple and their daughter reside in Frankfort.
ERL Intermodal is one of four companies owned equally by Steven and Edward L. Kowalsky, the company’s executive vice-president. The Kowalsky’s great-grandfather, a farrier by trade, came to America in the mid-1880s. In 1904, the same year that the U.S. gained control of the Panama Canal and Teddy Roosevelt was elected President, he started the recycling business handling rags, metal, and paper. In 1916, Robert, Morton, and Louis Kowalsky incorporated the business as Empire Recycling. The single site in Utica has been expanded to six sites, which monthly collect more than 30-million pounds of scrap from individuals, businesses, scrap dealers, demolition contractors, and others. The materials are weighed, graded, sorted, cut, and then shredded, baled, or logged. The metal products are shipped to customers for re-melting and processing into items such as sheet metal and can stock. The paper is typically recycled to paper mills as pulp. In addition, Empire Recycling has a division called Confidata that has three upstate locations for shredding confidential papers.
The brothers also own Nathan Steel, a full-service steel center located in Utica, providing structural-steel fabrication, stairs, special orders, and erection services. The company sells to contractors as well as the general public. ESK Realty, Inc. is the fourth company, responsible for 400,000 square-feet of covered space, 40 acres of property, and leasing to outside entities. The consolidated operation employs more than 200 people and generates more than $100-million in sales annually.
Steven, 65, and Edward, 58, represent the fourth generation of Kowalskys to run the business. The fifth generation now includes Steven’s son-in-law and Edward’s step-son in place to continue the venture will into its second century. The brothers Kowalsky, unlike Romeo and Juliet, have embraced a corporate change to help propel the enterprise to new heights. The name “ERL Intermodal” smells sweet indeed.