Ethanol, foresight is the greatest reward

As prices at the gas pump continue to rise and strife in the Middle East promises to keep them there, the ethanol alternative is looking better and better. Automakers realize this and every car ad now touts fuel efficiency and E85 compatibility.

This shift by the auto makers has things looking better and better for Morrison County as well, where the Central Minnesota Ethanol Coop plant sits just north of Little Falls. The plant has become a model to be replicated, visited by politicians and business people from across the country hoping to mirror its existence in their own localities. And on top of that, the plant is also turning a profit, paying back its loan to the county six months ahead of schedule.

With the strife in the Middle East, the demand for ethanol will only increase and that is a boon for the plant, the employees and for Morrison County in general.

But while the ethanol plant represents a picturesque example in community development now, its construction required a leap of faith by the county and the Rural Development Finance Authority.

The project began in 1994 when the Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative asked the county to create a TIF district for the incoming plant. The county agreed and after two years of negotiations the county board and the RDFA approved a total loan of $2.2 million dollars. The plant was approved for $855,000 in TIF financing but the county and the RDFA went another step and provided an additional $1,367,534 loan to be paid by the plant in monthly installments starting in July of 1997.

This move could have fallen out for Morrison County. If the plant had failed, local government would have been left with a faltering business and a very large unpaid loan. The move is especially worthy of mentioning considering the ethanol plant is one of only a select few economic development projects the county has ever embarked on.

A leap of faith by the county? Perhaps. But when Ethanol President Steve Anderson presented the county board with a check for $200,188 at its July 11 meeting, paying the last of the loan off six months early, the move looked genius. And Morrison County is on better economic ground because of it.

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