Growth-minded Green Plains moves to Aksarben Village with aspirations of cracking the Fortune 500

Source: By Russell Hubbard / World-Herald staff writer • Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Omaha company with plans to replace ConAgra Foods among city firms in the Fortune 500 said Wednesday that it plans to move to new offices in Aksarben Village, taking over the building started by the Tetrad Property Group.

Green Plains Inc., one of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, said it is moving from 450 Regency Parkway to an under-construction building at 1811 Aksarben Drive, in the heart of the retail, restaurant and business district on the banks of Little Papillion Creek.

About 160 people work in the Regency headquarters buying and selling corn, ethanol and related commodities and administering the affairs of a publicly traded company with $3 billion of revenue.

The new building will be ready next year, occupy three stories and 53,000 square feet and will be able to accommodate almost 400 people, said Chief Executive Todd Becker.

Real estate developer Tetrad Property began the building’s construction, and when Green Plains asked about leasing a floor or two, it wound up being offered the whole site, which it will occupy under a long-term lease. (Tetrad spokeswoman Jennifer Brinkman said in an interview that the real estate company will remain at its headquarters in Omaha’s Miracle Hills neighborhood for the time being.)

Becker said Green Plains searched all over Omaha in recent months for a new location; leaving town was never considered. The company started in Omaha and has a heavy concentration of plants in Nebraska and Iowa, the two largest ethanol-producing states. Iowa is first in corn, the fuel additive’s main raw material; Nebraska third.

“Now, hopefully, we can crack the Fortune 500 and be the replacement for the one we lost,” Becker said, referring to ConAgra Foods, which said in October it would move the headquarters to Chicago next year, while cutting about 1,000 Omaha jobs. It was one of the five Fortune 500 companies based in Omaha.

Green Plains received a $250,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s building and site fund that was established to encourage companies to expand their operations in the state.

Becker said the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce assisted with the process, after chamber officials visited the company for a check-up in the wake of ConAgra’s announcement.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said his administration, too, is keeping its ear closer to the ground to detect any dissatisfaction among employers that could be headed off at the pass.

“We want to make sure we are reaching out to everyone,” Ricketts said in an interview. “The best opportunities we have to create new jobs are with our existing companies.”

Ricketts called ethanol and related commodities such as livestock feed and corn oil enormous native assets and a natural spot on which to concentrate.

“One of our biggest opportunities, and it seems a natural for Omaha, is the creation of an agribusiness hub,” Ricketts said. “We have an abundance of the food, water and bioscience that is required, along with a great research university in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”

Randy Thelen, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said the group every year calls on more than 500 area employers.

Thelen said his office has been talking with Green Plains about plans for the past two months because the company is in a growth mode and always on the chamber’s radar.

“They looked at a number of buildings, and we wanted to make sure of retaining that expansion here, keeping the company here,” Thelen said.

The company already is a member of the Fortune Magazine’s list of the 1,000 biggest U.S. companies, ranking 712th on the 2015 list.

“We should be able to get there in five years,” Becker said of cracking into Fortune’s list of the 500 biggest firms. “I think we can do it.”

For the 2015 list, it took about $5 billion of revenue to get into the top 500. Green Plains had $3.2 billion of sales, according to the 2015 list.

Green Plains employs about 1,000 people nationwide at a variety of locations, including 14 ethanol production plants. There also are grain storage terminals scattered about, and even a cattle feedlot in Kansas, an important outlet for the sale of livestock rations that are a byproduct of the corn distillation process that creates ethanol.

Shares of Green Plains have fallen about 11 percent in the past year. Becker said the company is engaged “in a commodities business and those are always subject to cycles.”

“Things are steady right now,” he said in an interview after announcing the new headquarters to employees. “Demand is strong.”

The company produces about 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol a year, making it the nation’s fourth-largest. Green Plains plans to add additional capacity and just in the past two weeks bought plants in Virginia and Texas, adding about 160 million gallons of production.

“There’s more consolidation coming,” Becker said.

Everyone in the business is anxiously awaiting the latest Environmental Protection Agency rule on how much ethanol fuel blenders will be required to mix into the nation’s gasoline supply. The directive is many years behind schedule; every ruling results in a lawsuit, filed either by aggrieved ethanol producers or oil companies.

“There is a lot of misinformation,” said Becker, CEO of Green Plains since 2009.

Other than the law passed by Congress last decade to encourage the use of renewable fuel, the corn ethanol industry has no subsidies, incentives or tax breaks.

“We have never gotten a check from the U.S. government at this company,” said Becker, former vice president of international marketing for ConAgra’s commodity trading unit.

Becker said oil producers have opposed some aspects of ethanol because every percent of the gas tank claimed by ethanol — and 10 percent ethanol-to-clear-gas blends are ubiquitous at U.S. service stations — costs the petroleum firms billions of dollars.

“Our detractors are very well-funded,” Becker said.

Ethanol gets criticized because gasoline blended with it has a lower energy content than clear gas; some detractors also say the alcohol-based fuel is hard on small engines.

Regardless, the governor said it is an economic engine, job creator and form of energy independence native to Nebraska and worthy of public and private support and investment, with an annual economic impact of $5 billion created by 24 Cornhusker plants.

“Ethanol is huge for Nebraska,” Ricketts said. “These are Nebraska-grown companies that are investing here.”

World-Herald staff writer Steve Jordon contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 402-444-3197,

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Posted in  on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 12:30 am. Updated: 12:33 am.