Deep Market Knowledge and Operational Flexibility Lead Freight Carrier Through the Pandemic


Justin Hughes left trucking and moved into real estate in 2007, just before the Great Recession. Two years later, back into trucking, he founded the freight carrier DIESELGRID in Forest Park, and grew.


He contacted the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center at Clayton State University just a few years later.

“We were small then, with a couple of trucks and two employees,” he said. “I needed help evaluating the company. 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.”


Alisa Kirk and other UGA SBDC consultants since then have worked with Hughes on his strategic planning, human resources and leadership. They’ve helped him finance and refinance expansions and referred him to GrowSmart® and other courses. He now serves on the SBDC’s Advisory Council.


Through this period, since 2013, his employees grew to 26 and revenues increased more than 10 times – with 68 percent growth in 2019 alone.


In February, Hughes noticed a slowdown in the supply chain. He called his team together to discuss why the numbers were lower, trying to understand what was happening.


“By March 15, it was clear the U.S. was going to shut down,” he said. “So, our team met again and systematically wrote down our liabilities and supplies. We went through ‘what if we lost’ scenarios for our vendors, customers, staff and revenues. We went through all of our processes to decide what is critical and what is not.”


Hughes then applied for a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance, emailing Kirk with questions – What do they mean by this? Do we have to produce that? – drawing on her financing expertise.


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

Justin Hughes


Hughes obtained an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan grant with the Paycheck Protection Program loan and turned DIESELGRID’s focus on the supply chain, where demand was greatest.


Fortunately, before the virus hit Georgia, he had purchased a server and set up virtual PCs so his staff could work remotely.


“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,” he 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. I can’t say it enough, we are truly blessed to have this relationship.”