|BBI International produces international bioenergy conferences from its offices in Grand Forks. N.D.|
From its Grand Forks headquarters, media company BBI International has become a leading voice for the renewable, clean and unconventional energy industries.
Since first starting in 1995, BBI has honed a business model that maximizes its reach in niche trade areas, combining print and digital publications with annual international industry conferences. They also have a consulting arm, specializing in biofuel and biomass project assistance.
Joe Bryan, the company’s CEO, said BBI’s start came in the early days of the ethanol industry when they saw an opportunity to fill a void as the industry was taking shape. “That’s really where our core reputation started. We had connections to people who helped build the industry.” And today, he says, “BBI is part of the fabric of the ethanol industry.”
He adds, “We’ll always take pride in that. We had a hand in growing the industry.”
BBI publishes Ethanol Producer Magazine, a monthly publication. In addition, they produce the longest-running ethanol conference in the world, the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, which annually brings together producers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
There were, Bryan said, 18 million gallons of biodiesel being produced in 2004 when another of their publications, Biodiesel Magazine, launched. In 2012, production exceeded 900 million gallons.
“We went national ahead of when the industry took off,” he said.
With its biofuels and biomass conferences, magazines, and websites, and ancillary products that include maps and directories, BBI International covers the spectrum in bioenergy matters.
The company has more than 3 million impressions to its websites annually, more than 20,000 magazine subscribers, and more than 5,000 who attend its conferences each year.
BBI does all of this with a staff of about 30, says Bryan. They manage and execute all aspects of their operations in-house, from editorial development, sales, graphic design, and event planning.
Bryan says relationships they’ve built within the industry are key drivers of their success. They include producer and vendor representation on editorial boards and conference planning committees to provide BBI input and help staff develop relevant content.
Regional assets like the Energy & Environmental Research Center at UND provide valuable local connections the company occasionally draws on as well for its magazines and conferences.
“We are trade advocate journalists,” he said. “We cover from the perspective of wanting our industry to succeed.”
The result, said Vice President of Sales & Marketing Matthew Spoor, “is more accurate information because we are in the industry.”
“Anyone can find news,” said Bryan. “Our job is to find news you haven’t.”
Bryan says the national political deadlock in the renewable energy arena does, at times, make their work more challenging. “Policy effects consumer confidence. It puts people on the sides and is measurably more risky for our business.”
There are many competing elements that, Bryan and Spoor say, make the bioenergy industry exciting and ever-evolving, from talks on climate change which may have a positive impact on the industry, to the low cost of natural gas, which makes it more difficult for biomass to be competitive.
Even with some market uncertainties, Bryan says, the company is committed to maintaining its focus as they look at opportunities to expand into new, related industries.
BBI will be starting a conference in Australia, where the government is promoting greater self-sufficient energy solutions. And they expect to soon move into the Bakken market, with an emphasis on sustainable, efficient ways to extract and produce oil.
“There’s a lot of runway to be competitive with our model,” says Bryan. “We’ll have a real offering for people in the industry. We stand out because we offer a whole package.”
The region’s agriculture base is a boon for BBI, who draws on the farming background many of its employees bring to the organization.
Spoor said, “I don’t think we’ve ever hired anybody with direct energy industry experience. But we have many people with ag backgrounds and a natural tie to bioenergy.”
“We believe in what we are doing and have always stuck with that,” Bryan said. “Our employees have always gotten behind it. They’re commitment to the cause, their voice, and their work is really what puts our best foot forward. That pride in what we do is unique to the Midwest and a genuine thing.”