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Suburban construction business prepares for a long winter as it struggles through pandemic

Christmas lights decorate the downtown village of Huntley’s trees and streetlights. While the holidays are near, the atmosphere is anything but joyful. 

As Illinois COVID-19 rates rise to average 7,008 cases a day according to The New York Times, more restaurants are shutting down dining as a result and some businesses have permanently closed.

Much of the brick streets are empty and only a few people walk by with masks on. It’s cold, and the only noise that emits from this small Chicagoland town is the occasional train that passes by or what remains of rush-hour traffic. 

While many businesses in Huntley are shut down or closing, some are fighting their way through the COVID-19 pandemic as best they can.

Landmark Contractors Inc. has been one of the businesses that has gotten lucky. 

Despite the harshness of the pandemic, Landmark has been pulling through. A local general contractor business focusing on mostly construction, like public roads and sidewalks, Landmark has been operating in Huntley for 32 years and can be easily distinguished by its red and white pickup trucks with the company’s logo on the side parked in front of its small buildings. 

Brett Borchart, 37, the quality and control safety manager, stands outside of Landmark Contractors Inc. | Bianca Kreusel

“We actually did pretty well the year before,” said Brett Borchart, 37-year-old Landmark quality control and safety manager. “We were pretty busy, we had a lot of guys working on a lot of different types of jobs.” 

But when the pandemic hit, business dropped. 

“All of [a] sudden, you saw a big drop in the amount and the size of jobs, there weren’t a lot of big jobs to bid on,” Borchart said. 

Having to compete now more than ever with bigger contracting companies is challenging, so Landmark has taken on smaller jobs, and for a local company, it’s difficult to manage more short-term, low-paying jobs than it is fewer long-term, higher-paying jobs. 

While Landmark may have ended up somewhat lucky, many small companies have been forced to close due to loss of business and the inability to pay their employers.

In contrast, billionaires like Jeff Bezos, who gained $48 billion dollars in profits according to Business Insider, have profited from the pandemic—while millions have suffered. 

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Borchart said. “We’re considered essential because we work on roads. It’s hard though because you have that small job where you can only put a small crew on for a few weeks or a month and now we have to find something else to do.”

As Christmastime nears and the weather gets significantly colder outside, Landmark, like most other construction companies, will shut down and the workers will go home for the wintertime.

Office workers like Borchart, however, will still be in the building, bidding on jobs for the next year. 

According to a study by the Associated General Contractors of America, 44% of contracting and construction firms report that it has taken longer to complete projects and 32% say it has cost more to complete ongoing projects because of the coronavirus. Many more have projects postponed indefinitely and COVID-19 has impacted the confidence many firms’ have in attaining future projects. 

“Unfortunately, right now, that doesn’t look great either,” Borchart said. “Governments, municipalities, towns [and] villages are all still a little wary about spending money, so we’re not seeing a lot for us to bid on.” 

But Borchart is still hopeful. “We hope that after Christmas and New Year’s they’ll turn around a little bit, but we’ll see.”

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