Ethanol production doubled in a very short period of time in the U.S. due to a combination of natural disasters, political tensions, and much more demand globally from petroleum. Responses to this expansion will span many sectors of society and the economy. As the Midwest gears up to rapidly add new ethanol manufacturing plants, the existing regional economy must accommodate the changes. There are issues for decision makers regarding existing agricultural activities, transportation and storage, regional economic impacts, the likelihood of growth in particular areas and decline in others, and the longer term economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Many of these issues will have to be considered and dealt with in a simultaneous fashion in a relatively short period of time. This chapter investigates sets of structural, industrial, and regional consequences associated with ethanol plant development in the Midwest, primarily, and in the nation, secondarily. The first section untangles the rhetoric of local and regional economic impact claims about biofuels. The second section describes the economic gains and offsets that may accrue to farmers, livestock feeding, and other agri-businesses as production of ethanol and byproducts increase. The last section discusses the near and longer term growth prospects for rural areas in the Midwest and the nation as they relate to biofuels production.

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David Swenson
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