3.11.2015 | printed in the Winter 2015 issue of VITAL magazine
The 27 years that I’ve been in the industry has been one heck of a roller coaster ride. Not one of those newer, smooth-riding roller coasters that take you on a comfortable twisting and twirling ride, but one of those old, rickety roller coasters that jams your neck into your spine and makes you really hope that 30-year-old rusted bolts can withstand one more jolt – the kind that gives you a rush that you just can’t explain.
Our business gives me that rush. The highs are elation and the lows put your stomach in your shoes. But we always make it to the next turn. You know that feeling you get before a scary ride? Staring at the exit sign wondering if that’s the better decision? It was like that in the early years when we took a risk in the ethanol industry. We started this company at a plant in Scotland, S.D. when the industry was just an infant and almost were forced out the exit door on a couple of occasions. Many exited the ride early. But instead we got on a more thrilling ride by expanding our small plant, then building plants for others. We grew. We started new companies. We fought for new government policies. We developed technology to an unprecedented, efficient level.
We ended up hitting a blend wall then filed an E15 waiver. We’ve seen ups and down. The ride is never-ending.
This last year was an exceptional year. We saw incredible margins and production levels were at an all-time high. But, it was only a few years ago when the ethanol industry saw struggle. In the January 2009 issue of Vital, my column read, “Ethanol’s gold rush mentality has come to an obvious close and it is being felt throughout most of the industry. Although the industry and the economy face unprecedented times, I have never been more excited. ”
My excitement grows with every twist and fall in the roller coaster. The ride may flip upside down, but it always has a way of bringing you back upright. In the mid-2000’s, there was tremendous growth in the industry with dozens of new plants opening every year. Everyone wanted to be a part of the industry. Then, in the fall of 2008, the economy took a severe downturn and commodity prices went through volatility never seen before. Several ethanol plants shut down.
Margins eroded. Many exited the ride. But, POET was prepared for this because our experience told us to always be prepared. The roller coaster had thrown us through this loop before.
In the mid-1990s, a severe drought threw the industry upside down with high corn prices while oil prices dropped below $10 a barrel. At this time, we were only a small ethanol company with just a couple plants. But we knew from day one that we had to be the most efficient, lowest cost producer in the industry. This allowed us to break even when others couldn’t. We held on. And we made it to more prosperous times.
Most recently, we’ve been riding pretty high. But just like we knew the bad times wouldn’t last forever, we know the good times won’t either. So when the roller coaster dips or flips then stops again, I assure you we will be ready for the next ride.
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: A Little Crazy
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and Founder of POET