An Iowa State University economist says his review of Iowa’s ethanol industry shows within a year, there will only be about 1,900 people directly employed in an ethanol plant in Iowa. Iowa State University economist Dave Swensen says his research shows ethanol plants do not employ hundreds or thousands, but instead just a few dozen workers.
An ethanol plant that makes about 50 million gallons a year needs about 35 workers to run it. Doubling that level of production — going from a 50 million gallon to a 100 million gallon ethanol plant — doesn’t double the number of workers needed either, as Swenson says a 100-million-gallon-a-year operation would be run by about 46 workers.
"First of all fuel production in and of itself is a capital intensive industry — lots of capital investment, comparatively few workers," Swenson says. "That’s the way it is with the ethanol plants in Iowa and elsewhere. You really don’t need many workers to run an ethanol plant." Swensen, however, say the workers who are employed at the plant make good salaries as most need advanced degrees to work in the labs and monitor the complicated equipment.
Swenson says the industry’s impact is wider, though, as other jobs in Iowa are connected to the industry like those paid to transport grain to the ethanol plants. "If you take all of the production associated with ethanol in Iowa….we find out there are about 5,400 jobs in Iowa that can be directly or indirectly associated with ethanol production in the state," Swenson says.
Swenson’s measure focuses on "new" jobs, therefore his estimate does not include the farmers who raise the corn nor does he include the construction workers building the ethanol plants because those are temporary jobs that evaporate once the plant is up and running. Today there at 15 ethanol plants under construction in Iowa.