ALEXANDRIA — With a gray sky, chilly wind gusts and intermittent sprinkles as a backdrop, executives at Poet Biorefining’s ethanol production plant joined local and state dignitaries to announce what they see as news pointing to a brighter, post-pandemic future.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb was among the shovel turners at a ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of a new facility that will produce purified alcohol, a primary ingredient in hand sanitizer. Slated to be operational in early May of next year, the addition represents a $25 million investment by Poet, which expects to add six permanent full-time jobs at the Alexandria complex. Construction is expected to generate more than 50 jobs.
“We have an excellent team here in Alexandria,” said Matt Braun, senior vice president and general manager for Poet, which operates 28 plants in the Midwest. “We have a good relationship with the local and state representatives in the state of Indiana. And we have the opportunity to leverage an unused resource in excess corn, so we’re going to do that here. That’s the exciting part about it for us.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, demand for hand sanitizer, disinfectants and other cleaning products has skyrocketed. With Indiana and 34 other states seeing increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations this week compared to last week, Braun said engineers and researchers at Poet have worked continuously to develop a plant-based purified alcohol product in response to the shortage of those items.
Even after the pandemic subsides, Braun added, the company expects the new product to remain in demand.
“The good part is, this is not just a response to the moment, although there’s a need at the moment,” said Rob Sparks, CEO of the Corporation for Economic Development. “It’s really to position ourselves and this plant for production well into the future.”
Thursday’s announcement also represents an economic development win not only for Alexandria, but for the state, Holcomb said.
“We are profusely grateful for that courage and confidence during, in many respects, pretty uncertain times,” Holcomb said. “Really, the stars have aligned, and it’s because of all the stakeholders — the Farm Bureau … farmers, the corporate sector, and neighbors all around Madison County stepping up. This truly is an historic moment that I don’t think we’ll ever all forget.”
Local and state economic development officials said landing the new facility was a competitive process, given that the company had potential sites spread across seven states to choose from.
“They were looking at other states,” said Luke Bosso, chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Commission. “Indiana’s regulatory environment, tax environment, makes it appealing to everyone when they want to open businesses here. Also, being within a day’s drive of half the North American population makes it attractive.”
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” added Dave Hudak, general manager at Poet Biorefining-Alexandria. “It’s also an additional outlet for farmers in the area.”
Hudak said that with 85% of the Alexandria plant’s employees living less than 30 miles from the site, efforts to fill the new job openings will be concentrated on the available workforce in Madison County.
“There have been a lot of negatives about the pandemic,” Bosso said, “but this is one positive that we can all be proud of as Hoosiers.”