Earnings fell for state's 21 producers in 2015

Minnesota's 21 ethanol plants produced more ethanol and at lower cost, but made less money in 2015 compared with 2014, an industry report says.

The report by ABF Economics said ethanol plants in the state produced 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol, up 11 percent from 2014, along with 3.6 million tons of animal feed called dried distiller's grains and 198 million pounds of industrial corn oil used in feed and biodiesel production.

Ethanol producers spent $1.5 billion to purchase 423 million bushels of corn, about 30 percent of the state's crop, according to the report for the Minnesota Biofuels Association, a trade group. Overall, operating costs were down 24 percent, due partly to lower corn prices, the report said.

Revenues also fell as biofuel and feed prices dropped. Minnesota producers' earnings before interest, taxes and amortization were $489 million, down 39 percent from 2014, the report said.



Cirrus flying to the clouds in Duluth

Duluth aircraft manufacturer Cirrus is building a $12.7 million painting-and-finishing facility that will bring 150 jobs to a 68,000-square-foot facility in the Duluth Airport Industrial Park, near existing Cirrus operations.

The Chinese-owned company, founded 30-plus years ago by two brothers from Wisconsin, is driven by growing demand for aircraft, including the $2 million-a-copy Vision SF50 jet. Cirrus says that it has orders for more than 550 of the single-engine personal jets and that it expects to begin delivery in the second half of the year.

The new jobs will start at up to $14 an hour plus benefits and bring the company's workforce to about 825 employees in Duluth. Total expansion costs will be nearly $16 million, including infrastructure and equipment. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will provide a $4 million loan that will be forgiven if the company meets hiring and investment commitments.

"The development of Cirrus Aircraft is a quintessential Minnesota story," said Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, in a statement, noting that the Klapmeier brothers, one of whom is still active at Cirrus, launched the company in their parents' Wisconsin barn. "This Minnesota Investment Fund grant will help Cirrus bring its one-of-kind single-engine jet to market, while creating 150 good new jobs in Duluth."

The company struggled during the Great Recession. It was acquired by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft for an unspecified sum in 2011 from an Atlanta private equity fund. It's estimated that China Aviation invested $100 million to bring the long-anticipated single-engine commuter jet to commercial production. The company last year celebrated delivery of its 6,000th SR20-22 series aircraft.



Isaiah, consumer bureau to address loans

Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and members of faith-based organization Isaiah will address the perils of payday lending in north Minneapolis on March 21.

Critics say the average payday borrower pays 300-percent-plus interest and gets stuck with multiple loans through refinancing, out of desperation and ignorance. The Minnesota Commerce Department has been unable to get reforms through the Legislature. The CFBP is drafting national regulations.

Exodus Lending, a partnership with Isaiah and a Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis, Sunrise Community Banks and a few other organizations have launched small, lower-cost alternative programs and accompanying financial education. U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo have been criticized for providing wholesale funds to payday lenders and not starting their own small-loan programs for working-poor customers.

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