Talk Business & Politics Staff

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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.

Voter ID Vote photo ID
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas voters will be able to consider a casino amendment during next month's election, the state highest court ruled Thursday. The Arkansas Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the constitutionality of a voter ID law passed by the Legislature last year.

In one casino case brought by Ensuring Arkansas’ Future, the petitioners raised 27 challenges to Issue 4, which would allow casino operations at Oaklawn and Southland and also at sites in Pope County and Jefferson County.

McDonald's
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

McDonald’s on Tuesday announced plans to invest $69 million in 100 of the more than 170 stores in Arkansas by 2019. The work is part of a $6 billion plan to modernize many U.S. McDonald’s restaurants by 2020.

Work on the Arkansas stores is set to begin this year. David Stokes, a Cabot-based franchisee, said the work will use local professional services and help the state’s construction industry.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Yet another guilty plea has been entered in a kickback scheme using tax money related to convicted lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford, a former Preferred Family Healthcare executive.

Duane “Dak” Kees, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced Thursday that Jerry Kennedy Walsh of Magnolia, Ark., pleaded guilty today to conspiring to misapply over $380,000 from South Arkansas Youth Services (SAYS)without the authority of the non-profit’s Board of Directors.

Jake Files
Arkansas Times

Federal prosecutors are asking for up to 24 months of prison time for former Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, more than the 12 to 18 months that may have been suggested by the United States Probation Office. Files’ attorney is seeking a “very brief term of incarceration.”

Files’ sentencing is set for 10 a.m., June 18 at the federal courthouse in Fort Smith with U.S. District Court Judge P.K. Holmes III, presiding.

Johnny Cash House Dyess, Arkansas
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Dr. Ruth Hawkins spent many years roaming the gravel roads and out-of-the-way places in the Arkansas Delta searching for ways to increase tourism in the region. Hawkins, the executive director of the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites program, passed by Johnny Cash’s boyhood home many times.

Elaine Race Massacre
Arkansas State Archives

King cotton’s prices were on the rise, but the black sharecroppers who picked it were not benefiting. It was Sept. 30, 1919, and the harvest was about to get underway.

About 100 sharecroppers met at a church in the town of Elaine, a small town in Phillips County that sits in the vast Mississippi Delta Region. Armed black guards protected the people inside. Suddenly, white men appeared outside.

Picture of a tractor on a farm
Creative Commons

Corn and rice planting is underway in the Natural State but it’s a slow go in Northeast Arkansas. Rains and cold temperatures have stymied farmers’ efforts to get seeds into the ground, Craighead County extension agent Branon Thiesse told Talk Business & Politics. Less than 400 of the estimated 338,000 agriculture acres in the county have been planted, he said.

“We need to see some warm weather to warm the soil. … They (farmers) are getting concerned,” he said.

Jan Morgan
Talk Business & Politics

Jan Morgan jumped into the Arkansas governor’s race on New Year’s Eve and threatened to be a disruptive force in the GOP primary. For incumbent Gov. Asa Hutchinson, she’s had that effect by traveling the state accusing the governor of not being conservative enough and allowing state government to grow too much under his leadership.

Dicamba damage
University of Arkansas

Controversy has raged within the Arkansas farming community for years about the use of the herbicide, dicamba, and its impacts. The Arkansas State Plant Board allowed one formulation, Engenia dicamba, to be used during the 2017 growing season.

But after the board received numerous damage-related complaints from the herbicide drifting onto non-dicamba row crop fields, gardens, and other vegetation, the board banned dicamba in July 2017, and later opted to ban it in 2018.

Southwestern Electric Power Company on Tuesday fired back at a group opposing the $4.5 billion “Wind Catcher” project designed to deliver wind-powered energy to Arkansas.

Asa Hutchinson Jonathan Dismang Jeremy Gillam
Arkansas Times

Arkansas Legislative leaders are asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a special session to pass legislation that would license and regulate pharmacy benefit managers through the Arkansas Insurance Department. The governor is to address the request during a 3 p.m. press conference Monday.

Identical letters to that effect were written Friday by Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.

The city of Walnut Ridge is the only city in Arkansas where the Beatles ever set foot during their touring days as a band, and seven years ago Mayor Charles Snapp and a group of civic leaders wanted to commemorate the event with a festival. This year, it struck gold.

Beatles at the Ridge was chosen by the Arkansas Festivals and Events Association (AFEA) as its Gold winner, or the best festival in the state in 2017. Snapp told Talk Business & Politics he can’t believe this event, without a single paid staffer, has been selected as the best in Arkansas.

Election vote
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

After a day of special legislative elections, one race is final, one primary is decided, and a run-off will occur in a third match-up for three different legislative seats.

Voters in State Senate Districts 16 and 29 and State House District 83 turned out Tuesday to fill vacancies that have occurred in the last few months. The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office provided the following election results.

Sun Paper
Governor's Office

Sun Paper plans to boost its investment in a proposed Arkansas mill from around $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion. The new plans announced Tuesday also include projected employment rising from 250 to 350 new jobs.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his initial campaign team structure on Monday, Jan. 1. Five positions were filled as the governor embarks on his re-election bid. The staff and consultants include:

Campaign Manager – Robert Moery. Moery most recently served as Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Governor. During the 2014 campaign, he served as Executive Aide to then candidate Asa Hutchinson. Prior to joining the 2014 campaign, Moery worked for Senator John Boozman. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas has announced it will hire Hunter Yurachek as its new athletics director. The announcement followed several media reports that Yurachek had been hired.

Bret Bielema
KATV-Channel 7

University of Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema was fired on Friday following a 48-45 loss to Missouri and capping a 4-8 season.

Interim athletics director Julie Cromer Peoples notified Bielema shortly after he left the field following the season-ending loss.

rice fields
Mickey Liaw / Flickr.com

Plumes of smoke fill the autumn skies in the Delta as farmers burn row crop field refuse, and many complain about the side-effects of the smoke. Arkansas rice industry leaders have decided to form a task force to examine the issue, Arkansas Rice Federation Executive Director Lauren Waldrip Ward told Talk Business & Politics.

How many members the task force will have and when it will meet have not been determined, but it will include stakeholders from across the state’s agricultural industries and there will be communications with those who oppose field burning, she said.

Elizabeth Eckford only had one concern before her first day of school. She wanted to make sure her white dress was finished so she could wear it. The next morning she was wearing the dress as her father paced back and forth in the hallway. She took a city bus to Little Rock Central High School. It was Sept. 4, 1957.

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