Putting Biofuels Job Change and Growth into Perspective in the Near Term

The interior economy of the U.S., to include its more rural areas, has not grown at anywhere near the pace as the remainder of the U.S. We also know that manufacturing in the interior of the U.S. has been hard-hit over the past decade. Ethanol production from corn is a form of chemical manufacturing. When we look at the overall value of manufacturing to any economy, two factors are paramount: the number of jobs created and, of course, the associated earnings that workers convert to household consumption. Per unit of output, ethanol requires relatively few jobs as compared to the average manufacturing firm. The jobs produced, however, are good jobs when measured by wage and salary.

There have been very strong declines in manufacturing jobs during the present decade. Nationally, between 2000 and 2005 the nation lost nearly 3 million manufacturing positions, about 18 percent were in non-metropolitan areas of the nation, areas that did not have a central city of 50,000 or more. The chemical manufacturing industry, of which ethanol production is a subset, lost almost 100,000 jobs over the same time period. In 2005 the average earnings of a U.S. manufacturing job considering all wages, salaries, and benefits was $60,100. In the chemical manufacturing sector it was $69,150.

The firm and job growth directly associated with ethanol production in the U.S. can be readily estimated even though current detailed U.S. statistics are not available. In 2005, just over 1.6 billion bushels of corn were converted into ethanol. Assuming that those plants generated at a maximum 2.7 gallons of ethanol per bushel (EEOE 2007), that their average size at that time nationally was 65 million gallons per year (MGY), that they operated at 115 percent of average capacity, and that each plant averaged 38 jobs, then the U.S. ethanol industry directly required 78 plants and 2,910 jobs to process 1.6 billion bushels of corn. Average pay at new U.S. ethanol plants ranged from $45,000 to $55,000 per year - substantially less than either the U.S. manufacturing average or the average for chemical manufacturing, but substantially more than the nonfarm earnings average in most rural areas.

Were the industry to grow to process just over 4.3 billion bushels of corn annually by 2010, and assuming that plants were, on average producing 2.7 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn, were rated at 85 MGY in average capacity, produced at 120 percent of rated capacity, and had 47 jobs per plant, then the U.S. ethanol industry would require 165 plants and 7,716 jobs in 2010 as shown in Table 3.2. If the rural areas of the U.S. lost some 540,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2005, it is impossible to conclude that just from corn ethanol the addition of 7,716 jobs will yield a rural renaissance. Figure 6.4, compares just the expected gains in ethanol plant jobs through the end of this decade nationally to the erosions in just chemical manufacturing jobs in the U.S. during the first half of the decade.

Finally, for distributional perspective, if it is assumed that two thirds of the future corn ethanol production capacity were concentrated in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota, then there would be, on average, one plant per just over four counties, which would work out to slightly fewer than 11.5 new manufacturing jobs per county.

Table 3.2 U.S. ethanol plants and jobs

Corn bushels



in millions









Ethanol (Corn), 4,806

Organic chemicals, -99,717

Fig. 3.4 Organic chemical manufacturing job change compared to expected ethanol job growth

Organic chemicals, -99,717

2000 to 2005 2005 to 2010

Fig. 3.4 Organic chemical manufacturing job change compared to expected ethanol job growth

Guide to Alternative Fuels

Guide to Alternative Fuels

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