Sweet corn boosts state economy by nearly $130 million, study finds

    July 10, 2013

    CornAll that sweet corn ripening in fields across Wisconsin produces an annual state economic impact of nearly $130 million when it's processed, according to a new report from UW-Whitewater.

    "Value-added vegetables have an enormous economic impact in this state,'' said Russ Kashian, a professor of economics and director of the Fiscal and Economic Research Center at UW-Whitewater, which produced the report.

    As this year's crop grows across 73,000 acres of Wisconsin farmland, fans of hot, buttered corn on the cob are ready to enjoy the summer treat at festivals and cookouts.

    But the full economic impact comes from more than 40 Wisconsin canneries and food processors that turn nearly 590,000 tons of sweet corn each year into canned and frozen products for consumers.

    "When we drive down the highway and see sweet corn, we should see jobs," Kashian said.

    Processing corn produces a product insulated from foreign trade pressure and economic downturns, he said, because "people will buy canned corn in a recession." Wisconsin is the leading state in exporting processed sweet corn.

    Students at the economic research center analyzed agricultural, sales and employment data to calculate the economic impact of processed sweet corn.

    As a direct result of the thriving corn processing industry, about 320 jobs were created with a boost to the state economy of about $78 million, the report said.

    Researchers added indirect effects, such as spending that creates jobs in utilities, and looked at what economists call "induced impact," the indirect economic effect when industry employees and their suppliers spend their money in restaurants, grocery stores and shops.

    This combined total economic impact of $129,953,080 created 719 jobs in Wisconsin from processed sweet corn, the report concluded.  It also noted that the industry generated about $4.9 million in state tax revenue in 2012.

    The UW-Whitewater report comes as Seneca Foods Corp., which operates nine food processing plants in Wisconsin, has proposed an 80,000-square-foot expansion of its Janesville plant that could house up to five new packaging lines.

    Eight to 10 UW-Whitewater students work each semester at the Fiscal and Economic Research Center, learning the research and analysis skills that lead to good professional jobs, often with Wisconsin companies.

    "We train people who serve our market,'' Kashian said. "We train economists for the regional economy and part of that training is the real-life application of skills at FERC."

    Full report (PDF)

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