Increased job opportunities and higher median pay are among the highlights included in a newly released report on the economic impacts of the bioprocessing industry in Cedar Rapids.

For many years, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been known as the center of bioprocessing activity in the United States. Dozens of companies in the area produce products that include ethanol, grain-based food products, animal feeds, yeasts, processed foods and vegetable oil.

In 2015, a unique public-private partnership between Iowa State University and Cedar Rapids was established to understand and support further development of the bioprocessing and manufacturing industries in the eastern Iowa town. Together, the two entities strive to create a competitive advantage for bioprocessing companies.

Chad Hart, professor of economics and extension economist at Iowa State, said the partnership serves to connect the science being done at Iowa State to real life applications in Cedar Rapids. In turn, Cedar Rapids officials have access to experts at Iowa State who help guide the development of the city’s bioprocessing industry.

The latest report about the partnership, issued in December 2023, assesses the economic impact of current bioprocessing activities in Cedar Rapids, including corn, oats and soybean processing; yeast and fermentation products manufacturing; and processed food manufacturing.

Key points in the report include:

  • The corn, oat and soybean raw materials processed in Cedar Rapids are valued at roughly $2 billion.
  • For each job created in the food manufacturing and bioprocessing industry, four additional jobs are supported through the wider economy.
  • Cedar Rapids’ bioprocessing industry employs approximately 4,000 individuals in manufacturing activities. The median income for this group is $87,922, higher than the citywide average of $61,653.
  • Between 2010 and 2023, employment in the food and bioprocessing arena increased at a rate nine times that found in the general employment in the Cedar Rapids area.

“The report shows how big of a pull the bioprocessing industry has on attracting business to the area and the impact the industry has on Iowa’s economy,” Hart said.

The report goes on to detail the steps involved in each bioprocessing activity, the water and energy needs and the waste generated from each processing area.

It concludes by providing insight into potential technologies that are on the horizon that will convert lower value secondary products and solid and liquid waste streams into higher valued products. These may include:

  • Turning distillers wet grains, a byproduct of ethanol, into a high-value sweetener known as xylose
  • Converting oat hulls to a solid fuel source
  • Fermenting corn steep liquid to valuable bioproducts
  • Hydrogenating vegetable oils with novel catalytic and more efficient methods to produce less trans fats.

Funding for the 2023 report was provided by the Iowa State University-Cedar Rapids, Iowa Partnership and the City of Cedar Rapids. Multiple centers at Iowa State, including the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations, the Bioeconomy Institute, and the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, contribute to the partnership by offering facilities and services for the commercialization of bioprocessing technologies and the development of research projects to explore pre-commercial scale projects.