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Market knowledge and operational flexibility lead freight carrier through pandemic

Justin Hughes left trucking and moved into real estate in 2007, just before the Great Recession.

After he decided to return to trucking two years later, he reached out to the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center at Clayton State University.

His new company, the freight carrier DIESELGRID in Forest Park, had just two trucks and two employees.

“I needed help evaluating the company,” Hughes said. “Once I walked through my original concerns with the SBDC, I learned they have so much more to offer and started taking advantage of that.”

Since then, Hughes has worked with Alisa Kirk and other UGA SBDC consultants on strategic planning, human resources and leadership. The SBDC consultants helped him finance and refinance expansions and referred him to GrowSmart®, a core SBDC program that helps small business owners expand, and other courses. He now serves on the SBDC Advisory Council.

Since 2013, he has expanded to 26 employees and his revenues have increased more than 10 times. He saw a 68 percent growth in revenue just in 2019.

In February 2020, Hughes noticed a slowdown in the supply chain, which reduced demand for his service.

“By March 15, it was clear the U.S. was going to shut down,” he said. “So, our team met and systematically wrote down our liabilities and supplies. We went through all of our processes to decide what was critical and what was not.”

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Hughes then applied for a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance, with assistance from Kirk.

“Justin is a visionary, always looking ahead and never afraid to question things,” Kirk said. “The pandemic was worrying a lot of small business owners, but he was already thinking about what he needed to do.”

Hughes obtained an SBA EIDL grant with a Paycheck Protection Program loan and focused DIESELGRID on the supply chain, where demand was greatest.

Employees were able to work remotely, as Hughes had purchased a server and set up PCs before the virus hit Georgia.

“We were forced to flip the switch in March,” he said. “We also moved to serve the greater supply chain, from raw materials to manufacturing. We joined the Georgia Manufacturer Alliance and began building relationships with their local network to find those key people.”

This pivot helped DEISELGRID connect with a major customer that ships to a local grocery chain.

Kirk also introduced Hughes to the Georgia Mentor Protégé Connection, which matches small Georgia businesses with a Georgia corporation for a one-year mentoring and business development partnership.

“It’s an amazing program,” Hughes said. “I encourage others to join me in working with the SBDC to learn how to run their businesses effectively. It is comforting to know you can trust someone who has no agenda other than to honestly help you. ”

Learn more about the UGA SBDC at

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