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    Advocacy, Change Are Central Themes at NATSO Show

    Key industry issues include rest-area commercialization and interstate tolling.

    Tractor trailers parked at a truck stop

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A full program of industry insights, new ideas and expert advice for industry professionals, as well as the chance for companies to showcase their products and services, took center stage in Nashville this week, as leaders in the travel plaza and truck stop industry gathered in Nashville for the two-and-a-half-day-long 2014 National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) Show.

    This year’s NATSO Show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center kicked off with a keynote presentation featuring Bill Haslam, a former NATSO chairman and the current governor of Tennessee, along with Tom Heinz, current NATSO chairman and president of Heinz Inc. and Coffee Cup Fuel Stops and Convenience Stores Inc., plus Lisa Mullings, NATSO president and CEO.

    “In 2014, NATSO is born to live,” Heinz told the audience of around 300. “It’s easy to talk about our marching orders because they are so important.”

    Among the most pressing issues facing the industry are rest-area commercialization and interstate tolling, both of which are bad for business. There’s also the need for increased support of a fuel tax increase to help fund infrastructure, something that hasn’t happened since 1993. According to Mullings, such a tax increase would only cost consumers about $4.66 a month more on gas.

    The keynote also touched on some of the industry’s 2013 accomplishments, including success in getting legislation passed that requires approval for tolls on parts of Interstate 95. The presenters, though, stressed the need for greater involvement and advocacy. Heinz urged attendees to not only visit Washington, D.C., for NATSO’s annual Day on the Hill, but also bring 20 percent more of their company’s staff to the 2015 NATSO Show.

    Some of the later keynotes included presentations from Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon, and innovation expert Jim Carroll. The big message? Change. Companies must be willing to grow and take chances, instead of fearing the risks or ignoring new technology.

    In addition to the keynotes, parties and networking events, education played a big role at the show with a number of educational sessions, 15-minute “Snap Learning” discussions and “Human Library” sessions that allowed attendees to speak one-on-one with industry experts. The range of topics included alternative fuels, shop repair, payment technology trends, health care reform and the rise of convenience store gourmet.

    The trade show floor, meanwhile, hustled and bustled with displays from almost 100 exhibitors. While many of the products showcased are already standard in the industry, some suppliers offered a glimpse of technologies and services just starting to arrive. For instance, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Comdata showed off its new SmartSight fueling solution, which allows gas station operators to have real-time data for unattended fueling locations.

    In response to the major concern of credit card skimming, Duncan Falls, Ohio-based Flint Loc distributed information about its alarm system, which can automatically shut off the power to a fuel dispenser if an unauthorized intrusion is detected. “We are getting swamped with business,” said David Jacobs, national sales manager for the company.

    Opticwash, based in Ocala, Fla., exhibited what it has dubbed as the world’s first vending kiosk for cleaning eyeglasses and jewelry, capable of cleaning, drying and killing 99 percent of the bacteria in mere minutes.

    Finally, TruckStar Systems, based in St. Lucie, Fla., exhibited a solar solution to the no-idling restrictions that truck drivers are facing in several states. Besides providing energy for drivers, the system’s solar panel stations provide revenue for the sites where they are installed. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Larry Jennings, president of the company.

    The 2014 NATSO Show concluded on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

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