Finding new life for Aurora Cat plant a 'regional challenge'
Describing it as a "significant challenge" for the local economy, Kendall County leaders are beginning to plan for a future without the Caterpillar Aurora plant.
Caterpillar announced last March that the company will move its machine production out of the plant in an unincorporated area near Montgomery, taking with it about 800 jobs.
At Oswego Village Hall Tuesday, federal and state elected officials, area mayors, representatives from Caterpillar and Waubonsee Community College launched the Kendall County Cat Task Force in anticipation of the closing of the manufacturing facility.
Although they refrained from mentioning any specific vision at this point for the plant, there is a consensus among the group that the site should be marketed for industrial and manufacturing uses.
Caterpillar's corporate media manager Rachel Potts said the transition of its workforce at the plant will begin this fall. The plant is expected to close by the end of 2018.
Potts said there is still work to be done at the plant.
"Demand has increased for us," she said. "We expect to produce products here until well into 2018. The work force we have on site is busy pumping out yellow iron still."
She said there have been no involuntary layoffs this year. In June, they began communicating that the transition will begin this fall and continue through the ramp-down of the plant.
The plant has been a mainstay in the Montgomery area since the mid-1950s, Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder said. It manufactured large- and medium-wheel loaders and other heavy earth-moving equipment within the roughly 4 million square feet of manufacturing and office space.
The facility has its own rail spur, a water tower, on-site waste water treatment capabilities and transmission line feeders as well as its own helipad.
"For the last 61 years, Caterpillar has been woven into the very fiber of Kendall County and our region," Gryder said. "I have been told at its height of production Caterpillar employed as many as 7,500 employees."
The history of the facility is rich, but what is important now is finding a new use for the plant, as well as helping the workers who are being let go, he said.
"The goal of the task force is for us to look back, hopefully in five years, and view the departure of Cat and what comes next as a success story," Gryder said. "Our number one priority is to the employees who potentially will be out of work. Our efforts are intended to mitigate that loss."
The task force will look to federal, state and local governments to assist in the marketing of the sale of the site. They have already begun to tout the area's infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce, as well as supportive governments and the quality of life of the local communities, group members said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) said while he was disappointed Caterpillar would be moving production to other existing facilities, it was also an "opportunity" for the local communities to "work together to confront this challenge and do all that we can to mitigate the effects of this plant closing on our economy."
Foster said the task force would immediately begin to help workers losing their jobs to find new work and to market the site to new employers.
"We have facilities ready for businesses to move in to and we have people ready to go work," Foster said.
The effect of the closure will be felt throughout the region, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Plano) said.
"We feel the footprint of this closure very significantly right here," Hultgren said. "But when you look at the ripple effects of families impacted, people who travel 10 to 50 miles to work here, this is as much of a community challenge as it is a regional challenge."
Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley said the group is ready to work hard to make a difference.
"This is not a photo-op. This is the beginning of working with Caterpillar and residents of all of these communities. Let's do something great and turn this into an opportunity for the area to employ workers at a decent wage," Brolley said.
Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News