Aurora Blacktop's Future Uncertain, Owners Say
The 65-year-old family-owned Montgomery company is in trouble, due to a sagging economy and unpaid invoices to bankrupt developers. The Leifheit brothers are working to find a buyer, but say the company's asphalt plant will not run this year.
Aurora Blacktop has been in the construction business for 65 years. Located on Sard Avenue in Montgomery, this well-respected company has remained family-owned for its entire existence.
But now, due to a sagging economy and a downturn in development, Aurora Blacktop’s future is uncertain. President Rod Leifheit said Friday that the company has no plans to fire up its asphalt plant in Yorkville this season, and has struggled for years to pay its bills, due to unpaid invoices from bankrupt developers.
“The developers went down, and they took us with them,” Leifheit said.
The Leifheit family is seeking a buyer for the company, Rod Leifheit said, and they’re hopeful. But in the meantime, the company has sent a letter to all its workers, informing them of the decision to shut down.
“It is with heavy hearts that we must inform you that after over 60 years of business, we must close,” the April 12 letter reads. “Like many businesses today, we are victims of the economy and can no longer sustain operations. We wish all of you the best and sincerely appreciate your years of service to Aurora Blacktop.”
Leifheit said the letter was meant as a courtesy to the workers, letting them know they should look for other employment this construction season. Corey Johnson, of Laborers Union Local 149, said the letter reached every field employee of Aurora Blacktop—around 50 people, he said.
Construction workers are generally laid off over the winter months, Johnson said, and rehired in the spring for the season. He said the company’s letter has him scrambling to help members of his union find work, and came as a complete surprise, especially since workers were called in to their usual pre-season safety meeting on April 4.
“We were under the impression that they were going to start up in the second week of May, which is a little late, but that we’d be back to work a week or so after that,” Johnson said.
Johnson said union members in a referral hall may have less trouble than those in a hiring hall, who will be placed on the bottom of the hiring list in mid-April. Those people, Johnson said, may lose an entire year of work.
For decades, Aurora Blacktop has been one of the go-to companies for road resurfacing in Kane and Kendall counties. The village of Montgomery, for example, paid $393,252 to the company to do all of its resurfacing and patching work over the past year, according to Acting Village Administrator Jeff Zoephel.
While Montgomery (and the village of Oswego) have no outstanding contracts with Aurora Blacktop, Kendall County has just awarded the company more than $2.8 million in construction work.
Robert Davidson, chair of the county board's Highway Committee, said road-related construction typically does not being until late May, so the committee will discuss the situation at its May 8 meeting.
Davidson said he had not spoken with the Leifheit family about the status of the company, but had heard rumors about Aurora Blacktop's ownership. The only "official word" he had received was that work was not starting on May 1.
"We also heard the same rumors, but rumors are rumors," Davidson said. "We can't function on rumors."
Aurora Blacktop was awarded six projects Tuesday: the $1.26 million project on Galena Road, the $159,733 project on Eldamain Road, the $818,452 project on Galena Road, the $165,439 project for Bristol Road District, the $171,297 project for Little Rock Road District, and the $267,712 project for Oswego Road District.
The county has several options if Aurora Blacktop is sold, Davidson said. The new company could take over the projects, the county could award them to the second-lowest bidder, or the county could re-let the bids. State officials also would have input in several of the projects, Davidson said.
"Most of this is with IDOT money, so the state is looking over our shoulder," Davidson said.
Rod Leifheit said he and his brothers are working to find an owner that will hire the same workforce, but nothing is certain at the moment. Some of Aurora Blacktop’s workers have been with the company for decades, which Johnson said is rare in the construction industry. (“They treat people well,” he said.)
The Leifheit brothers are all hoping they can find a buyer soon and keep the company going.
“None of us want to see it go under,” Rod Leifheit said.