Moving Industry Rebounds as Pentagon Eases Travel Lockdown

The military moving industry is seeing some glimmers of hope as the Pentagon begins easing pandemic travel restrictions after a nearly three-month lockdown.

The shipments of troops’ personal belongings has rebounded to about 80% of historical norms for this time of year and could reach 100% within weeks, after dropping to 30% or less in March when the Pentagon ordered a halt to most global moves, according to associations representing the industry.

The military is the largest customer for the domestic personal property moving and storage industry, accounting for about 15% of all business and 400,000 moves annually. The Pentagon was forced to hunker down amid the outbreak but this week announced travel might resume in 38 states, the District of Columbia, and five countries.

“Some people are feeling good about the month of June and are seeing increased business, more and more shipments,” said Dan Bradley, director of military and government relations for the International Association of Movers, an industry group.

Doug Kanter/AFP via Getty Images
A United Van Lines employee gets out of a moving van.

The new Pentagon guidance frees up leadership at installations across the country to decide whether to increase troop moves and personal property shipments if they meet certain criteria, including the lifting of local stay-at-home orders and decreasing trends in Covid-19 cases in their areas.

That means tens of thousands of shipments could begin flowing to moving companies as the military enters the peak summer season when personnel are most likely to be transferred to new assignments.

U.S. Transportation Command, which manages the moves for the military, said it anticipates more shipments as locations are designated “green” under the new policy.

“Shipments volumes are increasing this summer, with shipment requests returning to typical ‘peak season’ volumes,” said Dave Dunn, spokesman for the command.

Early Recovery

The rebound is also coming weeks earlier than expected. The department had originally extended the end date of the stop-movement order holding up shipments from May 11 to June 30 but has decided to begin easing the halt now.

“People lost revenue but could make that up in the later part of the year,” said John Becker, the interim president of the American Moving and Storage Association, an industry group.

The peak season for military moves is typically June-August but the pandemic upheaval will likely draw that out through the fall. “They are going to have to move those people and that’s good for industry because we are ramping back up,” Becker said.

Challenges still remain for many companies that suffered major drops in revenue.

Meeting surging military demand in summer months requires hiring more employees but companies are still short on revenue and are having difficulty bringing back workers who were forced onto unemployment benefits by the pandemic, both industry groups said.

Impact Unknown

The toll on the industry of the military’s halt to moves is still not completely known. The two associations had asked Congress for $450 million in stimulus money to weather the fallout.

At this point, Becker said a handful of companies shuttered but those had been suffering from problems that predated the outbreak.

Many companies are depending on loans through the Paycheck Protection Program created by Congress in the CARES Act ( Public Law 116-136) enacted in March and that money could begin running out at the end of June, said Katie McMichael, director of government affairs for the American Moving and Storage Association.

“I think that’s when we might see the immediate impacts,” McMichael said. “Some folks that I have talked to say those PPP loans are what is keeping them afloat right now.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Travis J. Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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