In early June, I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) 2012 meeting in Chicago.  I was there to represent the Memphis Bioworks AgBioworks Regional Initiative as one of the programs being recognized for its innovation and goals in terms of job creation and a combination of economic and environmental sustainability.

CGI America meets once a year to recognize innovative programs that are designed to address economic recovery initiatives.  An impressive group of nearly 1,000 people from government, business and civic minded organizations learned what was happening on projects across the country and to gather ideas to take home to their own communities.  Memphis Bioworks Foundation was there at the invitation of the Delta Regional Authority (DRA).  The Authority was officially showcasing its support and partnership with us for the roll out of the AgBioworks Regional Initiative, a model rural and urban entrepreneurial job creation incubator in the Memphis and surrounding Mississippi Delta region. In its endorsement at the two day event, DRA sited the Initiatives’ potential role in the emerging bioeconomy by adaptively reusing existing manufacturing assets and reconnecting these assets with agricultural production capacity in the rural communities. The job creation program takes advantage of the untapped biomass and industrial assets in the region, to make the Delta region the “green chemistry and advanced biofuels” hub of North America.

This was excellent timing for the Initiative to receive this kind of national attention, as several new elements are now in place.  With four funded staff positions, including a Director located in Memphis, and Project Coordinators in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, the Initiative has expanded services to 48 counties across Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee through regional collaboration with local universities, chambers of commerce, and private agri-business ventures. This multi-state, rural and urban connectivity to land and programs increases the competitiveness of Memphis as a hub.  There currently are has two primary focus areas – processing trials and crop trials.

At a rural sweet sorghum biorefinery located at Agricenter International in Memphis, processing trials are being conducted in partnership with Memphis-based BioDimensions Delta BioRenewables and German Farms of Whiteville, TN.  In addition, the AgBioworks Regional Initiative has secured commitments from private venture partner BioDimensions and other private and university partners to plant more than 600 acres of renewable industrial oilseeds and sugar crops for the coming crop year 2012-2013.  You have probably heard me discuss BioDimensions before as they were instrumental in launching our AgBioworks program at Memphis Bioworks and were one of the start-up companies operating in our Bioworks Incubator.  They have now “graduated” thanks to recent equity investment and have moved to our shared crop development center at Agricenter International.

Production of renewable biomass feedstocks for green chemicals and biofuels will be an important economic driver for the DRA’s geographic footprint across the Delta. Energy independence is a critical national priority, and our initiative seeks to strategically position our regional agricultural, manufacturing and logistical assets in a leadership role for the inevitable growth of the bioeconomy.

I think it is important for people throughout the Memphis and Delta Region to know that work being done and commitments being made here are among the best in the nation. The program book for the CGI America conference stated that in just one year the CGI America participants have made more than 100 Commitments to Action valued at some $11.8 billion with the job creation potential of more than 150,000 jobs.  Of the 100 plus commitments, only five were highlighted in the program.  One of those five was the AgBioworks Regional Initiative.  At Memphis Bioworks, we appreciate the DRA’s continued support of this vision for a new regional bioeconomy.

To learn more about the Delta Regional Authority’s commitment and its support of the Memphis Bioworks initiative, click here.