Arkansas Economy

A handful of Little Rock businesses will be reducing their prices by 25 percent for female shoppers on Tuesday in support of national Equal Pay Day.

Abby Olivier, a member of the Arkansas Equal Pay Coalition, says the idea of charging women less reflects current Arkansas earning statistics.

“The Institute for Women’s Policy Research – they just put out an extensive report on the status of women in the south  – this came out just this past February. According to this report women in Arkansas earn 75% compared to men,” Olivier said.

March Revenue Higher Than Forecast In Arkansas

Apr 4, 2016
Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration building in Little Rock.

Net available general revenue is more than 3 percent above where it was this time last year, and nearly $73 million  higher than expected. 

That's according to a report released Monday by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration  that details March revenue numbers. 

State economist John Shelnutt said the jump is in part because of a growth in sales taxes, and because of refund levels are $44 million lower than last year.

State Board Of Education To Review Little Rock Charter Expansion

Mar 30, 2016
Arkansas Department of Education Building in Little Rock near the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A 3,000 student expansion of the eStem and Lisa Academy charter schools will come before the State Board of Education Thursday night.

Little Rock School District Civic Advisory co-chair Greg Adams told KUAR he hopes board members will consider how this growth could hurt the LRSD.

"To me, it's their responsibility to really look at the whole picture," he said.

One month does not make a trend, but a more than 21% gain in home sales during January in Arkansas’ four large markets continues the momentum of 2015 in which home sales were up almost 10% – with a December that had an almost 20% gain.

Home sales in Arkansas’ four largest markets totaled 1,484 in January, up 21.24% compared to January 2015 and up 18.3% compared to January 2014. All four markets posted double-digit growth in January, according to The Arkansas Home Sales Report. Lags E-commerce Industry Growth Despite Hefty Investments

Mar 29, 2016

With 40 million customers per month, is the 15th largest online shopping site, despite being the world’s largest retailer. Few market watchers are convinced the Bentonville-based retailer’s multi-billion dollar e-commerce investments will move the ranking too much higher.

Walmart’s online traffic equals just 7% of weekly store traffic and only 2% of the sales. The majority of Walmart’s online shoppers also shop in the retailer’s stores, with 80% at least once a month and half once a week, according to analysts with Cleveland Research.

Talk Business and Politics

As state lawmakers prepare for an April 6th special session to consider the fate of the governor’s health care reform program, Arkansas Works, two state lawmakers say there are multiple issues to address to secure the votes needed for passage.

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, and Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics to explain how Republicans and Democrats may be persuaded to support the Medicaid expansion plan.

Arkansas’s Unemployment Rate Continues To Drop

Mar 25, 2016
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Arkansas’s unemployment rate has tied its all time low, according to numbers released Friday by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services. 

At 4.2 percent for the month of February, the rate is the same as the lowest number recorded in 2000.  It is down from 4.4 percent in January of this year.

Kathy Deck, an economist at the University of Arkansas, says that while these numbers are good for all of the right reasons, the manufacturing sector still bears close examination.

U.S. Senator John Boozman in the Republican Party of Arkansas headquarters in 2016 during a campaign interview.

Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman is lauding the president’s historic visit to Cuba but says the U.S. shouldn’t be more critical of human rights issues there than it is with other trade partners.

A company that produces steel cord for the tire industry is expanding its manufacturing plant in northwestern Arkansas, a project the company says will add more than 100 new jobs.

Bekaert on Wednesday announced it is expanding its Rogers plant due to growing demand from tire manufacturers around the country. The expansion will add an additional 50 percent production capacity to the plant, which opened in 1989.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Rogers Mayor Greg Hines and Bekaert Chief Executive Officer Matthew Taylor announced the expansion in Rogers.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration is introducing two separate pieces of legislation in the upcoming special session: one that will create his program for continuing the private option, which he is calling Arkansas Works, and one he is calling a “savings bill” that includes a managed care provision and a managed care “bill of rights.”

Hutchinson made the comments Tuesday speaking to a town hall meeting – his first as governor – at Central Baptist College in Conway.

Former US Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk talking with attendees of a luncheon at Philander Smith College in Little Rock.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A former US Trade Ambassador for the Obama administration touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership to a Little Rock audience on Tuesday. Ron Kirk, who served on the President’s cabinet from 2009 to 2013, told those gathered at a luncheon event at Philander Smith College that the trade agreement between 12 Pacific-rim nations will be an economic boon for the state and the nation.

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Revised federal data show that Benton County’s per capita personal income in 2014 was 149.3% of the national average, and only seven other counties in a 12–state southeast U.S. region had a higher percentage. The new numbers also show Arkansas was 82% of the U.S. average in 2014, down from an historic high of 82.2% in 2013.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) discussing changes to eligibility verification for Medicaid in the Governor's Conference Room at the Capitol in early August.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Details on a $10.5 million economic development project in Jonesboro will be announced Wednesday, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson set to take part in the “Project Timesquare” reveal.

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the announcement will be made at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center Hames Room.

However, the process on the project begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday when the Jonesboro Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reviews a site plan for the project.

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Arkansas’ job market got off to a strong start in 2016 as the state’s jobless rate fell three percentage points in January as more than 6,000 workers were added to the state’s growing labor pool, according to the figures released Monday by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Arkansas Chamber of Commerce Chair Randy Zook with Gov. Asa Hutchinson sitting behind him.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and state economic officials are rolling out a private-public partnership branded as “Be Pro. Be Proud” designed to entice young people to enter technical fields and become skilled laborers.

At the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock on Tuesday, chamber Chair Randy Zook said learning a trade such as welding or plumbing ought to be considered in the same regard as pursuing a four-year college degree.

Arkansas Healthcare Providers Oppose Managed Care Reforms

Mar 3, 2016

Arkansas Hospital and Pharmacist Associations are voicing opposition to increasing managed care in Arkansas, in advance of legislators’ vote on a range of Medicaid reforms expected Monday.

The associations say polling of Arkansas voters shows opposition to contracting with managed care companies, which claim to reduce costs and determine healthcare programs for patients. 

Brad Chism, of Chism Strategies, said likely voters responded negatively to managed care across ethnic and partisan lines. Surveyors spoke to 453 respondents. 

Arkansas saw double-digit growth in revenue collections in February as fewer taxpayers received income tax refunds and the state’s predicted surplus from the recently revised fiscal 2016 forecast continued to grow.

According to the state Department of Finance and Administration’s monthly revenue report released Wednesday, February net available general revenue totaled $279.9 million, $61.6 million or a whopping 28.2% above last year and $31.8 million or 12.8% above forecast.

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Arkansas’ average jobless rate in 2015 was 5.2%, below the 6.1% in 2014 and well below the 7.4% average in 2013. It is the first time the annual average dropped below 6% since 2008.

Also, broad revisions of labor market data shows that Arkansas’ jobless rate fell below 5% sooner than previously noted, and December’s jobless rate was 4.7% instead of the previously reported 4.8%.

gas-to-liquids GTL

Little Rock-based Energy Security Partners LLC and Pine Bluff officials announced Tuesday that Jefferson County is being considered as the top location to build and operate a potential $3.7 billion industrial gas-to-liquids processing facility.

Interstate 30
Arkansas Highway & Transportation Dept.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has floated the idea of cutting the state’s largest economic development incentive program as a funding source for highways, but the idea is being resisted by those who say the program cuts the cost of manufacturing plant upgrades and helps retain jobs in Arkansas.

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s was recently awarded a $198.7 million boost to a previous multimillion dollar contract that will enhance production on an anti-ballistic system that President Obama recently touted as a deterrent to North Korea’s nuclear threat.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford Heading To Cuba On Trade Trip

Feb 5, 2016
Representative Congressman Rick Crawford

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, plans to take a trip this spring to Cuba to learn about furthering trade with the Caribbean nation.

Crawford, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said Friday during the annual meeting of the Arkansas Rice Council that he and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., are coordinating the April trip with lawmakers and agriculture leaders from Arkansas and Louisiana.

Arkansas Economists Anticipate Bigger Budget In 2017

Feb 2, 2016

An economic forecast report for next year shows an anticipated $106.8 million dollar budget increase from 2016.

The 2 percent increase is a result of tax cuts from last year’s legislative session.

The state currently has $551 million in net available revenue. In January revenue was $31 million dollars above forecast for the month.

The report shows all major collection categories were higher than expected. According to State Economist John Shellnutt, the positive results were due mostly to increased corporate and individual income taxes.

A leading economic indicator for a nine-state region stretching across Midwest America shows that Arkansas businesses saw robust expansion in January which help to lift the state’s economy above “growth neutral” for the first time since October.

City Leaders Encourage Residents To Determine Tax Credit Eligibilty

Feb 1, 2016
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

City of Little Rock leaders are encouraging low to middle-income residents to check their eligibility for tax credits as the spring approaches. 

A coalition of city, business, and non-profit leaders are encouraging low-income residents in Little Rock to find out if they qualify.

W.J. Monagle, Executive Director of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board, spoke at City Hall Monday as part of an effort to get the word out about Earned Income Tax Credits.

Editor’s note: Each Friday, Talk Business & Politics provides “Energy In-depth,” a round-up of energy and regulatory news. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed to approve Arkansas’ request to designate Crittenden County as attaining the federal 2008 ozone standard, a move that Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and other officials said will boost the state’s economic development in eastern Arkansas.

The proposed “attainment” designation comes after a letter last month from Hutchinson requesting the EPA to remove the eastern Arkansas county from the federal “dirty air” nonattainment list, a designation that goes back to the Huckabee administration’s recruitment of a Toyota superproject.

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The Arkansas jobless rate fell below to 5% for the first time since June 2001 as the state’s labor pool climbed to 1,337,500 in December, according to the figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The North Little Rock City Council has approved $375,000 to repair sinkholes at Dickey-Stephens Park where the Arkansas Travelers play their home games.

Sinkholes began appearing after heavy rains and flooding along the Arkansas River in December. The largest is on the center field warning track and is about 35 feet in diameter and six to seven feet deep.

City Engineer Chris Wilbourn told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the work is to begin Wednesday and that officials won't know exactly how big the problem is until the digging starts.

Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool is one of the regional transmission organizations participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s ongoing Grid Modernization Initiative that’s central to the Obama Administration’s initiative to improve the resiliency, reliability and security of the nation’s electricity delivery system.