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Mitchell Poet plant’s manager proud of company’s mission, people

Becky Pitz, at right, gives a tour recently of the Poet biorefining plant north of Mitchell, near Loomis. Pitz is general manager of the plant. (Sean Ryan/Republic)1 / 2
Becky Pitz gives a tour recently of the POET biorefining plant north of Mitchell, near Loomis. Pitz is general manager of the plant. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 2 / 2

It’s hard to catch Becky Pitz without a smile.

The general manager of Mitchell’s Poet plant walks briskly throughout the plant, showcasing the different buildings, machines and processes with evident pride.

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“I love what I do. It’s fun to come to work,” Pitz said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic.

Prairie Ethanol, doing business as Poet Biorefining, is north of Mitchell, near the unincorporated town of Loomis. Pitz is now the only female general manager of the 27 Poet plants in the company in the U.S. And while she’s aware of the fact, Pitz said it’s not something she dwells on.

“I don’t think of it as that, at all,” Pitz said. “The other GMs in the group have been very supportive.”

Plus, she’s used to it. Pitz said she’s been in a male-dominated field since college. An Ipswich native, she graduated from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology as a chemical engineer. She worked for Toshiba in Mitchell for 12 years as a process engineer. When she heard about the job opening at the Poet plant, she saw it as a growth opportunity. She was interested in management, and the ethanol industry was booming. But, most of all, she was attracted to Poet.

“I liked what Poet stood for as a company. They’re out to change the world, and that’s pretty exciting,” Pitz said. “They stood for something greater than just making money.”

Poet Biorefining started in Scotland and is one of the world’s largest producers of ethanol and biorefined products. The Mitchell plant, in addition to ethanol, makes biorefined products like high protein animal feed. Their mission, Pitz said, is to promote renewable fuels and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

She began as technical manager in 2006, and the small crew that helped get the plant up and running is a closely knit group, she said. It’s her “work family,” she says, and notes that the company promotes a family-friendly culture.

“Family should be first in your life, aside from your faith,” Pitz said.

Her family includes her husband, Bill, and a daughter, Brianna, who attends Mitchell High School. They live about 10 miles north of Mitchell, but have a Letcher address.

“We really enjoy Mitchell,” she said.

The previous general manager of the Mitchell plant, Dean Frederickson, who is now general manager at the Chancellor facility, took Pitz under his wing, she said, and told her that one day she would make a great general manager. She took his words to heart, and in February 2013, she became the general manager of the Mitchell plant.

“He really did show me the ropes and he’s my mentor, all the way,” Pitz said. “I owe a lot to him; he’s a great guy.”

With first-hand experience in the value of mentoring, Pitz said she’s tried to continue that tradition of leadership at the plant. Whether that means she assigns someone a mentor or simply makes sure her door is always open, Pitz said there are no dumb questions.

“It’s important to have someone they can go to,” she said. “I’m here to help you, whatever you need.”

In her capacity as general manager, Pitz said she is tasked with more “big-picture” management, which includes knowing the ins and outs of the business, the company and the plant.

“I do a little bit of everything,” she said with a smile.

As she walks through the plant, she greets each employee by name, stopping to check in with them about their day. She knows what they do, how they do it, and how long they’ve been with the company.

During a tour, Pitz rattles off the uses of each building, piece of equipment and statistics about the industry.

What she’s most proud of, she says, is the company’s dedication to recycling -- namely the water the plant uses for its many processes. Since 2011, she notes, they have recycled more than 75 million gallons of water.

“I’m pretty proud of that,” Pitz said. “It’s good for the environment.”

Every day she learns something new, she said. She loves the challenge and the atmosphere, and in her new capacity as general manager, Pitz said she loves promoting Poet. From fifth-grade students to Irish farm women, she’s given tours to all kinds. One of her favorite things to do is convince someone that ethanol is a positive industry. In May, she took her first trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the industry. It was eye-opening, she said.

“We’re replacing foreign oil, we can give farmers another market,” Pitz said. “It was a lot of fun, educating them.”