Being a good neighbor is essential to the team at POET Biorefining – Lake Crystal, MN.
As one of the largest and most innovative ethanol companies in the world, POET produces more than 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol per year. All ethanol and related products are produced at its 27 biorefineries scattered throughout the Midwest, and each plant is led by a General Manager. That individual bears ultimate responsibility for the success of total operations – literally everything – for that plant.
So what’s it like to step into the position where the buck stops in a 56-million gallon ethanol plant? Jim Lambert, who assumed the General Manager position at POET’s Lake Crystal facility in April of 2014, was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t quite as “lonely at the top” as he expected.
“It’s been a very exciting, fast-moving environment with many different challenges on a daily basis, and change is a constant,” says Lambert. “But it’s been very refreshing to discover the resources that are available within the POET organization to support plant operations. It’s outstanding!”
And plant support wasn’t the only pleasant surprise. Lambert quickly learned that the quality of the plant’s workforce, which he describes as “a great team – they’re adaptable, engaged, enthusiastic, they embrace change, have a great Midwestern work ethic and a can-do attitude” – also lightened his load.
“You hear a lot these days about intergenerational challenges in the workplace, but we have lots of Gen-Xers and Millennials and they work very well together,” he says. “Our people are also good neighbors and they support the local community very well. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Lambert grew up in a small farming community in southwest Nebraska, where he worked on local farms as a youth. After picking up degrees in microbiology and food science and technology, he spent 25-plus years in the food industry, because he found himself drawn to value-added agriculture. That factor also influenced his decision to switch to the ethanol industry, but it was POET’s values that sealed the deal for him.
“POET’s vision, mission and values are aligned with my personal values, which makes coming to work a real pleasure,” says Lambert.
One of those shared values includes being a good neighbor. The plant is involved in a diverse assortment of programs in the community and area, including providing support for recreation departments, youth activities, sporting events (baseball is particularly big in the area), cancer drives and more.
In addition to successfully transitioning into his new job, Lambert has likewise found the transition to the community to be a good one. He lives in Lake Crystal, a growing and progressive community of 2,600, so he can be close to the plant and involved in the community.
In the midst of the rich soil and great farming region of southern Minnesota, the native Cornhusker – who’s an avid hunter, fisherman and golfer – feels right at home in the picturesque rural surroundings dotted with the area’s many small lakes. Time with family is also a priority.
Although his first year on the job as a POET GM has been extremely busy, challenging and a definite learning experience, Lambert has no regrets about his decision to join the POET family.
“I’m proud to be part of an industry that’s making a difference in the environment, energy security, agriculture and rural development,” he says. “It’s been very enjoyable and exciting, but this first year has gone very fast.”
To say that Commodities Supervisor Rick Wellmann is a busy guy would be a considerable understatement. Besides his day job, he farms on the side, is an assistant fire chief, helps coach his son’s youth hockey team, umpires 65 to 75 college and high school baseball games each summer and likes to spend time with family. Whew!
Wellmann was one of the original team members hired at Lake Crystal in 2005, and as he observes his tenth anniversary with the plant, he says he has much to be grateful for.
“After ten years I still learn something new every day,” he says. “And I’ve learned a lot about leadership. Part of that is appreciating the very good commodity crew we have here. They’re the ones who take the ball, run with it and do an excellent job.”
Wellmann also enjoys the farmers, truckers, and others who work with the plant from the outside.
“I work with a lot of good people,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve had a lot of funny moments, and some sad ones. The thing I enjoy most is just the dayto- day interaction – the camaraderie that goes with working together and getting the job done.”
PROVIDING FOR PEOPLE IN NEED
Lab technician Colleen Dunker has been with the plant since startup and says she’s learned a lot on the job.
“There have been a lot of changes and I’ve become much more aware about ethanol and why we need it,” she says.
As part of POET’s outreach out into the community, for the past several years Dunker has served as the liaison between the plant and the Theresa House. Theresa House is a temporary home in neighboring Mankato for women who’ve been abused, lost their jobs or are experiencing other serious life disruptions. The women frequently have their children with them.
Every fall, Dunker works with the home to see if either a particular family or the home itself have needs for clothing, household goods or other necessary items. Then she coordinates donations from the plant to help meet those needs at Christmas.
“The Theresa House does a nice job of helping the women get back on their feet,” she says. “It feels good to be able to help in those situations. The women and families really appreciate it,” she says.
POSITIVELY IMPACTING THE COMMUNITY
Local farmer Doug Meizell appreciates having an ethanol plant in Lake Crystal.
“We were very excited when POET got up and running in 2005, and it’s been a very good thing for both area farms and the community ever since,” he says.
Meizell cites easy in-and-out layout for delivery, competitive prices and friendly grain buyers among the plant’s virtues.
“Every day, I see trucks from 60 to 70 miles away because they have some of the best corn prices in southern Minnesota,” he says.
Meizell and wife Lori raise corn and soybeans on their farm five miles south of the plant, and have two sons, Nate, 21, and Nick, 18, who would like to come into the operation at some point. Nate will be a senior at South Dakota State University studying ag science, and is picking up some valuable experience working with POET Biorefining – Lake Crystal this summer. Meizell sees this as just one more example of how the plant is a vital community member.
“They’ve been good for the area farm economy, but they also help out a lot in the community too,” he says. “I know they’ve helped sponsor girls softball, and other youth sports, as well as many other community projects. I’ve told people many times that we’re fortunate to have a company like POET in Lake Crystal.”