How Blacklidge is Building Better Roads (and Growing their Business) with Innovative Products and Great Service
Asphalt paving contractors looking for products that improve the quality and lifespan of roads should look at Blacklidge of Gulfport, Mississippi. With decades of experience in the asphalt pavement industry, the rapidly growing family-owned company continues to develop new products and eye new markets while remaining true to its core values.
“We are focused on premium asphalt products that deliver exceptional performance. Our focus stands out because the industry as a whole is accustomed to commodity products,” explains President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Fergusson.
Blacklidge will soon launch two new innovative products, called ReGen and ReGenX, both of which are designed to restore aging asphalt. The main cause of asphalt deterioration is exposure to the elements.
“ReGen is an additive that is introduced to conventional asphalt binder and can be used in conjunction with recycled asphalt pavement (RAP),” for restoration purposes and performance enhancement, according to Fergusson. ReGenX “is an emulsion that can be used as a surface treatment. It penetrates into the surface and extends the life of an asphalt pavement. ReGenX is most valuable in situations where you dealing with porous asphalt pavement,” he continues.
Another new Blacklidge technology, called HiMax, is scheduled for release in 2019. HiMax is designed to slow down the aging process of hot asphalt mixes.
Blacklidge manufactures asphalt-based products at plants in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. “Our plan is to systemically expand geographically but at a steady pace. We want to maintain quality and service as we expand,” says Fergusson.
“Ten years from now, I could absolutely envision Blacklidge having a presence across the whole U.S.,” he adds.
Blacklidge Emulsion’s first proprietary product was called EPR-1 Prime, which was designed to control dust on unpaved roads under construction. A series of other proprietary products followed, including UltraTack, a fast-drying non-tracking tack coating material; and UltraFuse, ultra-fast drying hot applied bond coat. These products are powered by HiMod, a Blacklidge technology that produces thin-film bonding agents that boost strength and resist oxidation.
“Most of our products are sold to major asphalt paving contractors. In turn, those contractors are building or resurfacing roads under contract bids for Department of Transportations (DOTs). Some counties and municipalities act as their own contractors, and we sell directly to them,” notes Fergusson.
In addition to its products, Blacklidge operates a lab certified to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards in Gulfport. The lab facility, called BETA, performs quality control tests on Blacklidge products and “independent testing of asphalt binders and emulsions for other asphalt companies,” says Fergusson.
While each Blacklidge production facility does its own product testing, samples are passed on to BETA for further examination. The BETA lab “also serves as our [research and development] center,” says Fergusson. “BETA’s research team is responsible for new product ideas and patents.”
The company, originally called Blacklidge Emulsions, Inc., was founded by Ronnie Blacklidge, Sr., father of current owner Brittany Blacklidge, in 1990. However, the Blacklidge family’s involvement in the road construction business goes back several decades. Ronnie, Sr.’s great-grandfather Bo Blacklidge ran a sand and gravel company that provided concrete materials for highway construction. Ronnie, Sr.’s father Ray Blacklidge operated a heavy civil construction firm. Ronnie, Sr. himself, at one point, ran a construction company called Southland Enterprises.
The company remains family-owned, which is a huge plus as far as Fergusson is concerned. “Being a privately-held company gives us the luxury of executing long-term strategies that are not based on maximizing short-term profits. It allows us to offer things to employees that a financial investor wouldn’t care about. We’re a strong believer in creating an environment where employees are excited, fulfilled, and have a good work-life balance,” says Fergusson.
Roughly four years ago, the company began to promote itself as just Blacklidge. “The legal name of the company is still Blacklidge Emulsions Inc., but we refer to ourselves as Blacklidge in all our marketing and that’s how our customers know us. Part of it is that we’re moving beyond emulsions in our products,” explains Fergusson.
Blacklidge has experienced impressive growth in both markets served and personnel. The company currently has more than 90 employees, up from 80 this time last year. This increase in personnel is due to booming business. “We’ve expanded into new markets. We’re doing more business in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. Additionally, we’re expanding our field support organization. We’re bringing people into our organization whose entire role is to support our products with our customers so that they can properly use the product,” he explains.
While experience with asphalt-related products is obviously a bonus, the company looks for new employees with “high integrity, who are open, honest communicators. We’re looking for people who want to make a difference; they want to come up with new ideas. They’re not afraid of taking chances and experimenting,” states Fergusson.
Integrity, he continues, is a major company value. “A lot of companies talk about integrity –being honorable and trustworthy. We approach the idea of integrity in a way that challenges our employees to face situations in an honest way,” says Fergusson. “[They need to understand] if we make a mistake, we don’t cover it up. It’s all part of maintaining integrity.”
Blacklidge is “a very family-oriented company. We want to make sure there is not a trade-off between family life and business,” he continues. “We are also Christian-centered. People openly pray, talk about [their faith]. But it’s not a corporate mandate. You don’t have to be Christian to work for our company. We don’t treat people differently if they’re not Christian, but we advocate Christian values. It’s about love and acceptance and looking at everyone in the best light.”
Clearly, this approach is paying dividends. In June, Blacklidge was selected as the Best Place to Work in Mississippi for medium-sized companies, by the Mississippi Business Journal trade publication.
Blacklidge’s suppliers also appreciate working with the company. “We are looking for long-term relationships with suppliers. We need to make sure that products they are supplying are consistent and perform reliably. That’s our top priority. If our raw materials are not consistent, it will impact our products. We are always testing new materials to see if there are different things out there that can improve formulations of products that we sell. We are also looking for competitive pricing. It matters to our customers that our products are as competitive as they can be while still performing well,” says Fergusson.
Safety is also emphasized at Blacklidge. “Every employee goes through safety training. Every employee who goes into a plant environment goes through training procedures. All employees who are exposed to a road construction environment, such as our field techs, are trained on safety procedures in construction sites and on the road. We have truck drivers who are transporting hot asphalt, so we do extensive training on the handling of [that product]. With our drivers, we do electronic logging, so if a driver hits the brakes hard, we see that, record it. We’ve had no serious injuries for years,” he states.
The company’s products have been used on the Daytona Speedway and the NASCAR Homestead Speedway. And of course, Blacklidge products can be found in countless roads and highways throughout several states. “So many of the interstates in the Southeast use our products. UltraFuse is widely used throughout the state of Alabama on their interstates. UltraTack is used on the majority of state roads in Florida,” states Fergusson.
One current challenge is the weather. “Relentless rain” in the Southeast means road crews cannot pave asphalt, says Fergusson. Inclement weather is just temporary, however, and Fergusson offers a sunny forecast.
Within five years, “It wouldn’t surprise me if Blacklidge has doubled the number of employees and broadened our geographic presence. The impact of the new products we bring to market will be significant. I also think we will be recognized as an innovator in the industry. It’s an ambitious goal, since we are a relatively small company, but we’re breaking new ground [with our products],” he says.