Published: 2006

Across the globe, countries and regions are looking to the "bioeconomy" as the economic development wave of the future. The bioeconomy—an economy based on industries and technologies that turn organic matter ("feedstocks" or "biomass") into energy, fuel, and products such as chemicals or plastics—presents a compelling short-term economic development opportunity because it focuses on turning a region's existing crops and waste streams into higher-value products, rather than on bringing a host of entirely new industries into the region. In the longer term, as new technologies and processes are discovered, the bioeconomy can provide regional opportunities for entrepreneurship, innovation, research and development.

This paper is intended to paint, in broad strokes, the background for the Wisconsin bioeconomy picture. To fill in some of the details, we provide a companion Technical Study dedicated to exploring the specific feedstocks currently grown in Wisconsin, and their potential to anchor various bioindustry processes. Taken together, the Briefing Paper and the Technical Study point toward a key conclusion: in order to create a successful bioeconomy, Wisconsin must not only build on its existing resources and infrastructure, but must also pursue specific policies targeted toward creating an economy that includes a range of rural and urban jobs, entrepreneurship opportunities, ownership opportunities for rural landowners, and economic incentives balanced with environmental protections.

Accomplishing this task will require the state to efficiently organize its existing feedstocks and technologies in the short term, so that the state is fully in step with its neighbors in harnessing current bioindustry opportunities.

In the longer term, Wisconsin must organize its many high-quality institutions—government, academia, business, labor, and community—to provide a strong, robust foundation for research and development into the as-yet-unknown bioindustries of the future. Our third paper, a set of Policy Recommendations, directs the state toward this path.

Report number: 
237-1, 238-1, 239-1