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01-27-04: Corn processors near picking site for new facility

Mercer County still one of possibilities


Area officials remain hopeful that a group of Ohio farmers will pick Mercer County as the site for a proposed corn processing facility to produce ethanol and other corn byproducts. Similar multi-million dollar investments in other communities across the Midwest have revived depressed economies and provided well-paying jobs.
Ohio Corn Processors Inc. plans to decide within the next few weeks where it will pursue its plans to build the wet-milling facility. The president of the group of investors looking at the possibility of siting a plant in the area confirmed to The Daily Standard last week that Mercer County is one of three locations investors still are considering. Darke and Preble counties are believed to be the other sites being considered.
The investors plan to weigh the positive and negative aspects of each site and pursue their plans at the site with the best overall package.
A wet-milling corn processing plant would produce ethanol — a fuel that can be blended with gasoline — and an array of other corn byproducts. Such a facility would initially create as many as 80-100 full-time jobs and economic development officials say spin-off industries could add another 300 jobs.
Mercer County and Celina city officials are working closely together to try to put together the most attractive, most viable plan for an ethanol plant.
“I’m excited about this. This would be very good for the whole area,” Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue said. “The city is working hand-in-hand with the county on this. The city is willing to look at anything that needs to be done.”
An ethanol plant likely would have huge utility demands, especially for water and electricity. LaRue said the city would be willing to explore the possibility of extending utilities to the site.
Building and engineering costs for a wet-milling corn processing plant likely would top $200 million. By comparison, the Celina Aluminum Precision Technology (CAPT) piston plant in Celina was a $40 million investment when it opened, Mercer County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer said.
In Macon County, Mo., the state’s first ethanol plant has given the community a vital industry that’s residual effects can be seen throughout the community.
“This is primarily a farming community and the plant has been beneficial for everyone here,” said Frank Withrow, director of the Macon County Economic Development Corp.
The dry-mill plant in Macon County — different than the wet-mill facility proposed for West Central Ohio — produces 15 million gallons of ethanol and 85 million pounds of distiller’s grain annually, and now has begun selling carbon dioxide that is produced as a waste product in the ethanol process. The plant was Missouri’s first venture into ethanol.
“I know the farmers, not just here but in all the surrounding counties, are getting more for their grain,” Withrow said. “And there is the direct employment and it all seems to trickle down to everything that happens here.”
The Macon County plant employs about 40 people in jobs that Withrow said pay above-average wages. Macon County is about 60 miles north of Columbia in North Central Missouri.
The plant plays a vital role in the community and generally has been a good neighbor, Withrow said. For example, plant owners and Macon city officials struck a deal to partner together to build a natural gas-fired 10-megawatt electricity generator at the plant. The entities split the cost of the gas, with the plant using the steam and heat for its industrial processes and the city getting the electricity.
Michigan’s first ethanol plant was welcomed with open arms by the community of Caro in Tuscola County, located about 30 miles east of Saginaw in the eastern part of the state.
“The main feature is that it has created a strong corn market here and in surrounding counties,” said Michael Hoagland, Tuscola County administrator. “There also are some good jobs; they employ chemists and engineers and other professionals.”
Some communities have experienced problems due to ethanol facilities, mostly due to air pollution and odors coming from the plant. But Ohio can learn from the mistakes made in other places, and the Ohio EPA’s permitting process for ethanol facilities ensures their emissions will meet air quality standards, local officials said.
Hoagland said the odor issue causes controversy in nearly every town that looks at bringing in an ethanol plant. He also said those fears are not justified.
“I live two miles from the plant and there really is no smell. Sometimes, it faintly smells like toast for a while,” Hoagland said. “It was just a tremendous fear when this first was proposed ... but it just has not been the case.”
Ethanol is a small part of a larger trend toward “value added” agriculture. The term essentially refers to ways farmers can improve the value of their crops.
Value-added agriculture converts agricultural outputs into products of greater value. The business philosophy seeks to increase the economic value of an agricultural commodity through changes in genetics, processing or diversification. The term also is used to describe the improvement in consumer appeal of an agricultural commodity.
Value-added agriculture could be a specialty crop, fish farming or intensive processing like an ethanol plant.
“Since farmers will be unable to survive tomorrow by simply producing commodity corn and soybeans, the only choice is to add value to that crop; and to ensure success, it may take a whole community of farmers who have done their homework with a strategic business plan,” said Stu Ellis in an August 2003 article for the University of Illinois Extension office.


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The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822


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