Arkansas Economy

Robinson Auditorium
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On the one year anniversary of Little Rock’s historic Robinson Auditorium closing to begin a nearly $70 million renovation, a topping out ceremony was held Wednesday. The final steel beam that will be put in place on the expanded structure was signed by local officials, members of the design and construction teams and other guests. Work is scheduled to be completed by November 2016.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

A longtime Jonesboro company broke ground on a $12 million, 62,000 square foot facility that will bring up to 75 new jobs to the company.

The expansion groundbreaking for Hytrol Conveyor Co. was the 10th one at its facility on Arkansas 18 and the first one since 1999, the company’s chairman, Robert Jones, said before the shovel-turning event.

The company, which makes conveyors for companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and Fed Ex, moved to Jonesboro in 1962.

military vehicle lockheed martin tom cotton asa hutchinson
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A Pentagon official confirmed that a decision on the $30 billion award for Joint Light Tactical Vehicle project remains on schedule for an award in the fiscal fourth quarter, which for the U.S. military concludes at the end of September, Talk Business & Politics has learned.

Arkansas severance tax collections fell more than 50% in May from year ago levels as the state’s rig count plummeted to single digits and drilling crews are leaving the state for other richer wet shale plays across the U.S., according to state severance tax and employment data and industry reports.

That has left state tax revenue for natural gas production at just over $4 million in May, down 54.5% from $8.8 million a year ago, according to monthly tax data compiled by the Revenue Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration.

Cotton farmers in Arkansas are expected this year to plant the fewest acres ever in Arkansas' cotton growing history.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension estimates that cotton acreage could fall below 200,000 for the first time.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated in March that the cotton acreage would drop by more than 30 percent from last year. The previous low in the state was in 2013 with 310,000 acres.

Division economists say 90 percent of the drop in planting is due to falling U.S. per pound cotton prices.

A recent trip by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and economic development officials sent a clear statement to aerospace and steel companies about the state of Arkansas, a Northeast Arkansas economic development official said Monday.

Clif Chitwood, an official with the Great River Economic Development group in Mississippi County, attended the Paris Air Show with Hutchinson and other business leaders from around the state.

The air show brought aerospace companies together with suppliers in the civilian aviation industry.

The trip to Paris also brought good news Monday afternoon.

Following a meeting last week with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the Paris Air Show, Aerojet Rocketdyne, a world leader in the development and manufacturing of aerospace and defense products, on Monday announced plans to expand its facility in Calhoun County.

As part of the expansion, the company will add 85 new full-time employees and invest $18 million in new buildings, upgrades, and new equipment, officials said. The addition of 85 new positions will bring total employment at the Aerojet Rocketdyne facility in Calhoun County to more than 630 people.

Arkansas’ May unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.7% from April, but the measuring stick for job health was down 0.8% from one year ago.

Employment numbers rose by 900 for the month and unemployment ranks added 600 to the jobless rolls between April and May in Arkansas.

During the past 12 months, 46,100 Arkansans have been added to the workforce, while 3,000 have exited. Economists speculate that those departing the workforce are a combination of those giving up looking for work, those moving out of state, and retirements led by Baby Boomers.

Gov. Hutchinson Visits Germany, Promotes Arkansas At Steel Show

Jun 17, 2015
Arkansas Economic Development Commission

As part of his trade mission to Europe, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday visited Düsseldorf, Germany where he attended the METEC Trade Fair.

During his time in Düsseldorf, the governor met with several prospective companies with an interest in expansion in North America, officials with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said in a news release.

METEC, held once every four years, is an exhibition event for steel technology and focuses on castings, foundry technology, metallurgy and thermo process technology.

Benton County Has Highest Wage Growth In Nation

Jun 17, 2015

A northwest Arkansas county topped all other counties in the nation in average wage growth over a one year period ending in the fourth quarter of 2014. Benton County’s 9.9 percent increase bested the country’s 339 largest counties in a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Wednesday. The national average was 3.5 percent average wage growth.

Only a half dozen years after the Great Recession, the auto industry is experiencing a strong resurgence in payrolls with more than 7.25 million private sector jobs in the U.S. economy, according to industry analysis compiled by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

Gov. Radio Address: Promoting Arkansas In Europe

Jun 13, 2015
Office of the Governor

  The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Radio Address and Column for the weekend of June 12, 2015:

A few weeks ago, I was in Silicon Valley in California. Last week, I was in Newport and Batesville. Saturday, I leave for Paris and Germany.

The locations change but the business remains the same — economic development for Arkansas.

Jobs.

In 2015, we have to be a national and global competitor. And to compete on a national and global level, we have to market Arkansas at every opportunity. That means being there.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will leave Saturday for a weeklong economic development trip to France and Germany as part of a business recruiting effort.

Hutchinson said Thursday that he'll meet with aerospace companies at the Paris Air Show, which is the world's largest aviation and aerospace trade show. He then goes to Germany for an international metallurgical trade show.

The $129,000 trip includes meetings with at least 17 different prospective companies, but Hutchinson said he doesn't anticipate any new business announcements when he returns on June 19.

Arkansas Sees Tepid 0.8% GDP Growth In 2014, Farming Income Drops 19.9%

Jun 11, 2015

Arkansas’ real gross domestic product (GDP) output lost momentum in 2014 as the Natural State’s economic growth fell well below the rest of the nation and surrounding states, according to information released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaks to the Arkansas Workforce Development Board in Little Rock.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The newly constituted Arkansas Workforce Development Board held its first meeting Tuesday to begin building a long-term plan to re-align public education, skills training and industry needs.

The AWDB was created as part of a larger overhaul of the state’s workforce services passed in the Arkansas Legislature’s 2014 regular session.

Robinson Auditorium Center Music Hall
City of Little Rock

As workers begin to rebuild the interior of Little Rock's Robinson Auditorium, a key goal of the nearly $70 million renovation is to greatly improve its acoustics.

There had long been complaints about how live music sounded in the venue, which is the home of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. There were "dead spots" in the hall where the audience couldn’t properly hear the orchestra or all the instruments. That’s why the facility has been gutted and is being rebuilt inside the existing structure as part of the voter-approved project, funded with a two percent tourism tax.

$22M Southern Power Grid Command Post Flips Switch

Jun 1, 2015
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaking at a ribbon cutting for MISO in March 2015 before the facility was fully online.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A $22 million electric grid control center operated by Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO) officially turned the switch at midnight Monday to become the company’s hub for delivering electricity to Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Todd Hillman, the vice president of MISO’s southern operations said transferring control from its Indiana headquarters to Little Rock signals a growing energy demand in the region.

Southwest Steel Processing announced Monday it plans to invest $18 million in its Newport plant, adding a second forging line and creating 100 new jobs over the next two years. The state will contribute an additional $11 million to the project. Scott Hardin, from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, says the company chose to expand in Arkansas due to the capability of the existing workforce and community.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Work is nearing the halfway point on a nearly $70 million project to renovate Little Rock’s historic Robinson Auditorium.

Nearly everything has now been ripped out, including the stage, balcony, interior walls and floors, leaving little more than the outside shell of the building and its support beams.

Former President Clinton: Energy, Broadband Would Help Delta

May 28, 2015
Bill Clinton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday that alternative and more efficient energy, New Markets Tax Credit loans, and more broadband access would help areas along the Mississippi Delta enjoy more economic growth.

Clinton addressed by telephone the Delta Grassroots Caucus, a seven-state coalition of advocates and legislators meeting this week in Little Rock.

Lockheed Martin Rivals Ready To Compete For JLTV Project Despite Arkansas Efforts

May 28, 2015
Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin

Although Lockheed Martin has firm support for an $87 million financing package from the state of Arkansas, a Washington, D.C.-based defense budget expert said there is no reason to believe that the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor has an advantage over rivals in the high-stakes Joint Light Tactical Vehicle acquisition for 55,000 new tactical ground vehicles for the nation’s military.

Arkansas Jobless Rate Loses Ground As National Picture Improves

May 27, 2015

Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point as the U.S. unemployment rate fell in April as more than 223,000 jobs were added to the nation’s fast-growing labor pool, according to the monthly labor force data compiled and produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey at the Arkansas State Capitol.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The leader of the Quapaw Tribe visited with Arkansas’s legislative black caucus Tuesday and maintained the right of the Indian Nation to seek federal trust status for 160 acres of land near downtown Little Rock. The designation would allow the land – which sits in the middle of long-term growth plans for Little Rock’s port – to be exempt from local and state control.

Wikimedia Commons

The two-day Delta conference on economic equality for working families begins Tuesday in Little Rock.

The Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus, an advocacy group promoting economic development in the impoverished region will host the conference. Topics being discussed will include women and children in poverty and race relations, but the overall focus is economic equality. 

As part of the review process under Amendment 82, the state’s superproject amendment, lawmakers have received an independent consultant’s analysis of the proposed $87 million Lockheed Martin  Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) bond issue that will be at the center of debate in next week’s special session.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the official call for legislators to meet in special session beginning Tuesday, May 26 to vote on helping lure the military’s new JLTV production facility to Camden. The new military vehicle will replace the long-running Humvee vehicle.

Hytrol Conveyor Co. in Jonesboro has announced plans for a $12 million expansion that will include at least 36 new jobs.

The company said in a news release Thursday that the project includes a 62,000-square-foot expansion of its manufacturing facility, a new paint system, lasers, brake presses and computerized numerical control equipment.

Hytrol designs and manufactures advanced conveyor systems and currently has about 800 employees.

South Arkansas Wood Pellet Mills Still On Schedule For 2016 Start

May 13, 2015

Two full-scale biomass plants in South Arkansas are still scheduled to come online by the end of 2016, just in time for the wood pellet market to gain steam in Europe as industrial power generators switch from coal to renewable fuels.

Top officials for both Highland Pellets LLC in Pine Bluff and Zilkha Biomass Energy in Monticello told Talk Business & Politics that their respective companies are moving forward with land acquisition, environmental permitting and other preparations for Arkansas’ first high-profile entries into the burgeoning renewable energy sector.

Arkansans Feeling More Confident About Economy

May 12, 2015

Consumer confidence across the state has jumped more than ten points since October as Arkansans are increasingly optimistic about their overall economic situation, according to the latest Arvest Consumer Sentiment Survey released Tuesday.

The current spring edition of the consumer sentiment index for Arkansas is 79.1, up from 68.1 in October and 67.4 in June 2014’s inaugural survey. The survey also includes consumers in Oklahoma and Missouri, including Greater Kansas City.

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he's calling lawmakers back to the Capitol later this month to consider incentives aimed at luring a defense contract to the state.

Hutchinson on Monday announced he was calling a special session starting May 26 to consider the incentive package intended to help Lockheed Martin at its Camden facility.

Special Session Being Considered On Superproject, Presidential Primary

May 10, 2015
Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Legislative leaders are asking members about their availability for a May 26-28 special session, the day after the Memorial Day holiday.

The special session would center on a potential economic development superproject involving Lockheed Martin in Camden, Arkansas. The aerospace and defense contractor is in the running for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) being developed by the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps as a successor to the popular Humvee vehicle, which has been in service since 1985.

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