In 2014 the bio-based products industry contributed $393 billion and 4.2 million jobs to the U.S. economy, according to a report released by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a speech at the National Press Club on Monday.
The report also indicates the sector grew from 2013 to 2014, creating or supporting an additional 220,000 jobs and $24 billion over that period.
USDA commissioned the report, which was written by Jay Golden, director of the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce, and Robert Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University.
The bio-based products industry has helped move the unemployment rate in rural America from more than 10% when the Obama administration took office to less than 6% today, Vilsack said. He also said the bio-based products industry has played an important role in stabilizing the population of rural America and in reducing the poverty rate.
Vilsack defended the Renewable Fuel Standard, but he also said too much attention is focused on it. Commercial aviation and the defense industries are logical, big customers for biofuels in the future. Alaska Airlines is “fully committed” to biofuels, he said.
USDA has helped promote bio-based uses, he noted.
Under questioning, he also noted that the vehicle USDA provides him can use biofuels and that his own cars, a Mercury Mariner and a Ford Fusion, can use biofuels.
In addition, he said, “America has an appetite for everyday products — including plastic bottles, textiles, cleanings supplies and more — made from renewable sources, and that demand is fueling millions of jobs, bringing manufacturing back to our rural communities and reducing our nation’s carbon footprint.”
Vilsack repeated his statements in previous speeches that the bio-based products industry is one of four pillars that are the basis of the rural economy. The others are production agriculture, including commodities for exports; local and regional agricultural production, which is often priced locally rather than through world markets; and conservation, including markets for the benefits of conservation.
Vilsack also restated his frequent point that urban America should appreciate rural America.
The low cost of food and the fact that most Americans don’t have to raise their own “is a tremendous gift that we get every single day from this place we call rural America.”
For a full copy of the report, go here.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at Talk@dtn.com