From campus, Vilsack discusses bioeconomy

Steven Brittain

Speaking on the ISU campus on Wednesday, Gov. Tom Vilsack said the state government is producing efforts to make Iowa a front-runner in the nation’s new bioeconomy.

More than 350 people were present for Vilsack’s speech in the Scheman Building for the closing of the Iowa Industries of the Future’s daylong symposium on Wednesday.

“We are uniquely situated in our state,” Vilsack said. “While other states are grappling with difficulties, Iowa will more than likely end next session with a small surplus.

“Currently, we have over $800 million available for state programs and one-time, brick and mortar type investments,” he said. “We are hoping that $50 million will be set aside for the development of Iowa’s bioeconomic centers.”

Billions of Iowa dollars go to other states because the state is an importer of energy, Vilsack said. However, Iowa power companies are in the process of developing local means of energy production, in hopes of making the state an energy exporter, he said.

The bioeconomy is a form of industry in which the basic building blocks for producing industrial and consumer goods, chemicals, fuels and power come from crops, plants and other organic substances, said Jacqui Becker, Iowa Industries of the Future communications specialist.

“People from over 15 different states, from states as far away as Washington and Utah, came here today,” said Becker, senior in journalism and mass communication. “People across the nation are looking at Iowa to be the leader in this new economy.”

Vilsack said there are several areas where Iowa can aid the budding bioeconomy, but the Legislature will have to concentrate on a few key areas in order to get the initiative off to a strong start.

“We need to place a very targeted focus on the bioeconomy,” he said. “Iowa’s efforts to push this to the forefront need to center around using the resources of the state government on the various aspects of the bioeconomy.”

Vilsack suggested an aggressive reinvestment plan into Iowa businesses and bioeconomic industries. The state also needs to develop a dynamic between research universities and its faculty members, so faculty members with quality entrepreneurial ideas can make those ideas a reality, he said.

Vilsack outlined several key ideas he hopes Iowa will take in the future:

Continuing to develop new ideas and research;

Marketing Iowa as a bioeconomy state;

Developing a business-retention program

Recognizing that old economic rules don’t necessarily apply to the bioeconomy.

Iowa Industries of the Future wants the impact of the governor’s speech and the efforts taken throughout the symposium to provide a sense of enthusiasm about the bioeconomy, Becker said.

“What we are hoping is that the idea of a bioeconomy can get past being just a niche market, and can progress into a more systematic approach,” she said. “We want the bioeconomy to move from its current small base and expand into a system involving policy makers, researchers, industrialists and the other groups needed to sustain a thriving economy.”