Forced to Change, We Improve

By Tom Bryan | October 27, 2020

In early March, before the pandemic hit the Midwest, our team at Ethanol Producer Magazine was busy planning our big summer issues—May, June and July—the magazines distributed around the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. Life was good, the industry was strong, and the FEW, returning to Minneapolis, Minnesota, was a slam dunk to be our biggest show in a decade. The novel coronavirus was a distant threat. “Maybe it won’t last,” we thought.   

But it did, and by late-April it was clear that Minneapolis would not be hosting the ethanol industry’s big summer event. The city’s convention center was shut down. A month later, parts of its downtown were burning. We moved the show to Omaha and changed the date—the American Coalition for Ethanol joined us—but eventually we all had to admit the obvious: It wasn’t safe to meet in person. Not in Minneapolis. Not in Omaha. Not anywhere. The 36th annual FEW wasn’t going to happen at all, unless it was 100% virtual.

Today, looking back on the tumult of the last six months, I am immensely proud of our industry, its associations and people, for finding a way to come together and pull off an amazing, memorable 2020 FEW, held in conjunction with the ACE Annual Conference. As Lisa Gibson reports in our page-16 cover story, “FEW Online,” we did it together, in a safe, virtual environment, with nearly 1,000 people from all over the world gathering online to make this year’s FEW a reality. Among other silver linings to meeting virtually, delivering the FEW online allowed more international ethanol producers to participate than ever before. And because the presentations were recorded, they could be viewed both during and after the show.   

In her FEW keynote, Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor lauded the industry for its ingenuity and strength during the pandemic, highlighting how producers moved fast and efficiently to surmount the challenges of COVID-19. Likewise, a few months ago, we published the headline “Even When Hurt, Ethanol Producers Help” to express how ethanol plants pivoted during the pandemic to produce alcohol for sanitizer, which our nation desperately needed, and still needs.   

We, too, pivoted—big time—to produce the 2020 FEW as a virtual event, and not just our staff but hundreds of companies that helped us deliver content and bring the virtual expo to life. Just as ethanol producers have found good opportunities in the downturn—like USP-grade alcohol—virtual events are giving us an opportunity to diversify, think outside the box and expand the FEW’s global reach. If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps we are most creative when forced to change. And while the normal way of doing things—actually being together, face-to-face—will come back soon, the option to virtually participate in the FEW may not go away. The pandemic has accelerated our industry’s pursuit of diversification and, in a similar vein, strengthened the way information is produced and shared at our biggest annual conference.   

Author: Tom Bryan
BBI International