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SAYREVILLE, NJ -- Although the United States is in the midst of the worst economy it has experienced since the Great Depression, Gene Shvedov is upbeat.

Mr. Shvedov, vice president of business development for National Refrigerated Trucking, told The Produce News at the firm's headquarters in this central New Jersey town that "my grandfather told me, 'In business, you have to help people. You can figure out how to make money later.' We live in a time that presents challenges and opportunities. If you have not been hit, you can benefit."

National Refrigerated Trucking is helping to provide employment for owner- operators who have lost their jobs and is enabling them to get freight and be paid in an industry that has seen the worst economy in generations, he said. "We are able to pick up diamonds," Mr. Shvedov said. "In every company, there is a core group of people that form the backbone. We've seen a great opportunity to hire these people who are willing and ready to work. Every economic cycle presents opportunities, and we felt this was the biggest of this one."

He noted that the firm is only as good as its equipment and that it "hires only reliable, responsible and hardworking drivers and dispatchers. We provide them with consistent work, and they get a fair day's pay for their labor. Once a driver comes to work for us, they will often stay."

He added, "What sets us apart is our very entrepreneurial approach to compensating our drivers, which is done through billing clients, not on miles. Drivers trust us to negotiate the best possible rates. We partner with them, and they benefit from changes in rates. They have the opportunity to experience the true business of trucking's ups and downs."

Mr. Shvedov said that if a load will fit into one of his company's 70 owner- operators' 53-foot trailers, National Refrigerated Trucking will haul it. The firm handles both truckloads and less-than-truckloads.

"Our niche is refrigerated commodities, but we have been hauling non- refrigerated freight, too, to allow us to reposition equipment to a better area," he said. "We keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry," and the firm will position trucks according to where produce deals are located.

National Refrigerated Trucking, which operates here from the Garden State Technology Center, where it has access to 1 million square feet (of which 5,000 square feet are refrigerated), also has offices in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Phoenix plus three in Florida (Boca Raton, Fort Myers and Hollywood). While it provides service to all the lower 48 states and brokers freight in Canada and Mexico, he said that the firm specializes in freight in and out of Hunts Point, NY; New Jersey; Miami; Illinois; Missouri; Miami; Panama City, FL; Pharr, TX; Laredo, TX; Nogales, AZ; and Los Angeles.

All of this allows National Refrigerated Trucking, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this December, to charge its clients, which number approximately 2,000, what it called a fair-market rate for its services, and it often establishes long-term relationships with them, he said.

Mr. Shvedov said that National Refrigerated Trucking "is a technology company," and he noted that all its trucks are equipped with GPS and temperature-monitoring systems. The firm has a state-of-the-art, proprietary communication software system that enables employees to see where its trucks are in real time.

The firm communicates with its drivers through e-mails, and all carry Blackberry communication devices.

"We are providing loads at reasonable rates for our drivers," he said. "We provide excellent service while saving our clients money."