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MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- Chris Knapp returned to his hometown of Mount Vernon, giving up his blackjack dealing job in Nevada. He came home to take care of his sick parents, but hasn't been able to find decent work for four years. He's now working part-time at a convenience store.

It's hard, he said. 800 or 900 bucks a month ain't enough to survive on.

Now, though, a new economic engine is turning over in Washington. The trucking industry is hitting on all cylinders right now. More than half-a-million jobs are expected to open up nationwide over the next eight years.

I never really pictured myself as a truck driver, but it'll put food and money on the table, said Knapp.

While high tech and health care continue to lead the way for job growth in America, truck driving could be the best bet for blue collar workers right now. Construction work is stagnant, and a flood of driving jobs are opening up.

These aren t necessarily new jobs being added, but vacancies being filled. Industry experts say a generation of baby boomer truckers are parking themselves in retirement. Three new driving schools are now open in Skagit County alone.

At Biddix Driving School, the promise of work means a wait list to enroll. Entry level salaries start at $35,000 to $40,000 per year and that can rise quickly with additional training.

Well, put it this way, we've put 400 students though our school and about 388 are working, said general manager Joe Hardy. The other 12 are picky.

As for Chris Knapp, he's hoping to graduate from driving school this Friday -- and the romance of the open road awaits.

Yeah, real glamorous, he laughed. It's hard work, but it's an honest living.

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