Talk Business & Politics Staff

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Little Rock Port Authority Port of Little Rock
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced that retail giant Amazon has bought an 80-acre site at the Port of Little Rock for $3.2 million.

“We have settled upon acquisition of land with Amazon online,” Scott said, according to KATV, channel 7.

Governor Gov Asa Hutchinson face mask
Governor's Office / YouTube

COVID-19 cases in Arkansas jumped to 830 on Sunday, up 96 cases from the 734 on Saturday. It is the largest one-day increase since the pandemic arrived in the state. 64 of the state’s 75 counties now have at least one COVID-19 case. The number of deaths rose from 14 to 16.

The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 67 on Sunday, down from the 72 on Saturday. As of Sunday at 1 p.m., there were 324,052 U.S. cases and 9,180 deaths. Globally, there were 1,249,107 cases and 67,999 deaths.

Nate Smith
Governor's Office / YouTube

Two additional deaths from COVID-19 were reported Saturday in Arkansas, bringing the total to 14. The number of people testing positive for the virus has reached 743, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, an increase of 39 from the previous day. 

Meanwhile efforts to help businesses facing financial hardships are coming to fruition, he told reporters. State officials have approved 80 bridge loans through the Quick Action Loan Guaranty Program, with $1.7 million going out to help businesses facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutchinson said. 

Initial jobless claims in Arkansas for the week ending March 28 were 26,944, nearly triple the amount reported in the previous week. Jobless claims nationwide totaled 6.64 million, an increase of 3.34 million from the previous week’s revised level, according to Thursday’s U.S. Department of Labor report.

The Arkansas revised total for the week ending March 14, according to the Labor Department, was 9,275, more than six times the 1,382 in the previous week. The increase in the state’s jobless claims has skyrocketed roughly 1,850% in two weeks.

Governor's Office / YouTube

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas rose from three to five as of Saturday, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressing frustration about supply chain issues that are limiting testing for the pandemic that continues to spread globally. He also said the number of weekly jobless applications in the past week totaled more than 30,000, which followed about 9,400 applications in the prior week.

Publicola / WIkimedia Commons

The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control on Thursday issued a rule allowing restaurants and microbrewery restaurants to sell beer and wine for off-site consumption with the purchase of food. However, the new rule does not include the sale of mixed-drinks.

The rule is in place for 30 days.

UAMS covid-19 coronavirus
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas has risen to 12, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Saturday. The three new cases are healthcare workers at Jefferson Regional Medical Center and related to the original case discovered in Pine Bluff.

Hutchinson also said during Saturday’s press conference that he has authorized the Arkansas National Guard to be activated to help with logistics, call center support, transportation, EMT support and other needs.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas has five new "presumptive" cases of the coronavirus, Gov. Asa Hutchinson confirmed Thursday He also announced schools are being closed in Pulaski, Saline, Jefferson and Grant counties.

Lorie Tudor
Department of Transportation

Lorie Tudor, a 36-year veteran with the Arkansas Department of Transportation who began at the agency as a clerk typist, was named Thursday the director of the state’s high-profile department. She is the agency’s first female director.

The Arkansas Highway Commission has named Tudor as director following a special meeting held Thursday. She succeeds Scott Bennett, who announced his retirement effective March 20, 2020.

Scott Bennett
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Scott Bennett is retiring effective March 20, 2020. Bennett informed the Highway Commission of his decision in a letter dated Feb. 19.

"I’ve had a great career at ARDOT, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many success stories," Bennett said, "but it’s time for me to step down. I’ve always been told ‘you’ll know when it’s time,’ and I believe that time has come for me."

Commission Chairman Tom Schueck of Little Rock praised Bennett for his leadership. "It’s been a privilege to work with Scott," Schueck said.

pigs pig hog swine
L214 - Éthique & animaux / Wikimedia Commons

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto brought swine to Arkansas when he explored the region in 1541 and pigs have been a staple livestock sector in the state ever since. Despite the long relationship between pigs and humans, there’s still a lot about swine, and their microbiome, that is still unknown. A group of scientists in the Natural State is trying to broaden that knowledge base.

A team of animal science researchers from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture recently published their findings from a longitudinal study of the swine gut microbiome.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen
PBS

A lawsuit challenging the ballot referendum process has been dismissed by a Pulaski County judge. On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen dismissed the suit against the Arkansas Secretary of State and Safe Surgery Arkansas, a group supported by the state’s ophthalmologists.

Picture of a tractor on a farm
Creative Commons

A “Phase 1” trade deal was signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He that reduces some tariffs between the countries and seeks to boost U.S. agri exports to China. Critics say the deal avoids the hard trade issues between the two countries.

Following are some of the items in the newly signed deal.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Department of Education on Thursday published a 17-page report that is a five-year victory lap for the computer coding education program pushed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2014 and supported by funding in 2015.

Southwestern Electric Power Company, a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, has plans to close the Dolet Hills coal-fired power plant near Mansfield, La., as part of a settlement agreement approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission in December.

The 650-megawatt Dolet Hills plant is co-owned by SWEPCO and Cleco Corp., and Dolet Hills Lignite Co., a subsidiary of SWEPCO, operates the Oxbow Mine to provide fuel for the plant. SWEPCO serves more than 536,000 customers in three states, including 119,800 customers in Arkansas.

An example of a farmer harvesting soybeans.
Creative Commons

The last two growing seasons have been some of the toughest in decades for Arkansas farmers, but a glimmer of hope met many as the harvest season rapidly came to a close in 2019.

The state’s top crop, soybeans, was the most-watched. Farmers saw soybean acreage plummet in 2019 by more than 590,000 acres to end at about 2.6 million, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Arkansas’s population grew 3.5% between 2010 and July 1, 2019, according to estimates released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report shows the state added 101,773 new residents in the period.

State population was 2,916,031 on April 1, 2010, following the last census. The 2019 Arkansas population estimate – as of July 1 – was 3,017,804. U.S. population has grown 6.3% between 2010 and 2019, rising from 308.758 million to 328.239 million.

The Northwest Arkansas Council has announced a business initiative to prioritize support for the 2020 census.

The Council, John R. Tyson and Kara Wilkins have partnered, according to a news release, to educate regional community leaders in the hopes of catalyzing the business community’s leadership. Tyson is the chief sustainability officer for Tyson Foods and a member of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Complete Count committee. Since being named CSO in September, Tyson has been leading the company’s strategy to communicate the importance of the census to Tyson Foods employees.

Structurlam Mass Timber Corp., a company selected to help build Walmart’s expansive new corporate campus in Bentonville, will expand into the United States with a $90 million investment in an existing building in Conway that will open in 2021.

University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek (left) and incoming head football coach Sam Pittman.
University of Arkansas

Sam Pittman, 58, was named Sunday by University of Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek as the next head football coach of the Razorbacks. Pittman is a former offensive line coach and has for the past three years worked as associate head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia.

Pittman was the assistant head coach, offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas from 2013-15 before taking the job at Georgia. He also coached at Tennessee and North Carolina before coming to Arkansas in 2013.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the number of high school students enrolled in computer science courses has risen 22% from the previous year. 9,813 students are taking computer science courses in the 2019-2020 school year compared to 8,044 last year, he said.

Henderson State University
hsu.edu

The Henderson State University Board of Trustees voted unanimously 7-0 in Arkadelphia Thursday to join the Arkansas State University System and proceed with the development of a merger agreement. The move is subject to the approval of the ASU Board of Trustees and the Higher Learning Commission, as well as action by the Arkansas General Assembly.

ASU President Chuck Welch said the target for finalizing the transition would be no later than Jan. 1, 2021. He was president of Henderson State from July 2008 to April 2011 immediately prior to becoming president of the ASU System.

Hefei Risever Machinery (Risever), a Chinese-based heavy equipment parts manufacturer is on the verge of starting operations at its $20 million facility in Jonesboro. The company held a grand opening Wednesday and it should be fully operational by January, newly hired plant manager Chris Taylor told Talk Business & Politics.

"We plan to start production at the start of 2020," he said. "The building is complete and we’re installing equipment."

Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis
Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikipedia

Greyhound racing is on the decline nationwide and Southland Casino Racing is reacting to the trend. The West Memphis attraction, which has offered live greyhound races for 63 years, will phase out its greyhound racing operations by the end of 2022.

During the next three years, Southland will work with the Arkansas Greyhound Kennel Association to end its program, the company announced Thursday. The agreement had been contingent on approval from the Arkansas Racing Commission, which came Thursday.

Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst speaking to reporters at a press conference Wednesday about the latest report on tourism in the state.
Talk Business

Stacy Hurst, the newly named secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, on Wednesday unveiled the latest economic report on how the tourism and hospitality industry fared in 2018.

Overall travel expenditures rose 4.4% from 2017 to 2018 with visitors spending $7.37 billion in Arkansas during the year. Hurst, who delivered her remarks at the Arkansas Hospitality Association’s annual convention in Little Rock, said the Natural State saw more than 32 million visitors last year.

Stock Photo

Arkansas’s jobless rate fell to a record low of 3.4% in July from the 3.5% in June, and below the 3.6% in July 2018. Year-over-year, the state economy added 15,625 jobs, a 1.2% increase according to data posted Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of employed in Arkansas during July was an estimated 1,316,265, up 15,625 jobs compared with July 2018. The state’s labor force – the number of people eligible to work – was 1,363,167 in July up 1% compared with the 1,349,795 in July 2018. The July numbers are preliminary and subject to revision.

Safe Surgery Arkansas is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to appoint a special master to review its signature collections and it is challenging the legality of a new law that was used by the Secretary of State to reject counting its petitions.

Arkansas Works Governor Asa Hutchinson Work Requirement
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal judge has ruled that work requirements under the Arkansas Works program are not legal and called for an immediate halt to that element of the program. The ruling could have significant budget implications for the state.

In a ruling issued late Wednesday, U.S. Federal Judge James Boasberg said the work requirement element applied in 2018 to Arkansas’ Medicaid system is not legal. He rejected claims by the state that striking down the provision would be disruptive.

Windstream Holdings Inc. said Monday that it plans to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection immediately as the Little Rock-based rural telecom provider deals with the fallout of an adverse federal court ruling on Feb. 15.

Ariel Martini / Flickr.com

If the casino ballot initiative passes in Arkansas on Tuesday, Delaware North, the parent company of Southland Gaming and Racing, will attempt to build a hotel and convention center in West Memphis, Delaware North Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs Jack McNeill told Talk Business & Politics. It would cost at least $200 million to build and would likely be located on the Southland property, he said.

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