Editorial

Ethanol plant grows from small beginning

Monday, June 9, 2003

Ethanol.

You've been hearing that word a lot lately, but, like many of your friends and neighbors, you have probably been wondering: "What's the big deal, anyway? Why are the Nebraska members of the U.S. Senate so excited, and why are communities throughout Nebraska in such a hurry to get started building ethanol plants?"

If you talk with Everett Huddleson of Trenton, you'll never have to ask those questions again. Everett has a story to tell -- a thrilling story -- about how ethanol production will transform the economy of Trenton and the surrounding region of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.

In fact, it's already happening. Power lines are going up and dirt will start moving next week on the ethanol plant site, located two miles south of the U.S. 34 and Nebraska 25 highway intersection.

By the time construction is completed in the spring of 2004, a new, state-of-the-art plant costing $45 million -- that's right, $45 million -- will be open for business.

"It's the biggest thing to hit this area since the building of the Trenton Dam 45 years ago," said Huddleson, who is president of the Trenton Community Development Corp.

How could this small community pull off such a mammoth ethanol project?

It started in late August of 2001, just a couple of weeks before the 9-11 tragedy. "A few guys got to talking up at Trails West. Someone brought up ethanol and, one thing led to another. Before you knew it, we were conferring with Berexco, based in Wichita, Kan., and ICM Inc., of Colwich, Kan."

Those original coffee chats involved Huddleson, who is retired in Trenton from the title insurance business in Denver; Rich Frakes, who is a semi-retired business owner; Marvin Harms, recently retired from Southwest Fertilizer in Trenton; and Kelly Wertz, a farmer with computer expertise. They took the idea to the Trenton development corporation -- known by the initials, TCDC, and the project quickly swung into motion. "It wouldn't have been possible without the full cooperation of the TCDC and Sen. Tom Baker, who has been a terrific help all the way through," Huddleston said.

The return from the ethanol project will be immense. According to preliminary estimates annual sales will be $40 million to $45 million per year. In the process, the plant will employ 32 full-time workers and buy 12 million bushels of corn per year from area farmers.

Ten days from now, the plant -- called Trenton Agri Products, LLC -- will celebrate with a groundbreaking ceremony featuring Gov. Mike Johanns; Sen. Baker; the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Al Wenstrand; and top officials from Berexco and ICM Inc.

It will be a momentous occasion, which -- amazingly -- started with a coffee shop conversation. It just goes to show that great results can, and often do, grow from small beginnings.

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