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Unemployment Remains Unchanged

Arkansas’ August unemployment rate remain unchanged at 7.4 percent as the state’s job picture remained in a rut.

According to U.S. Department of Labor numbers, the number of unemployed dipped by 800 from a year ago, but the number of employed workers also declined by 26,600. The U.S. unemployment rate actually fell one-tenth of a percent to 7.3 percent. August marks the first time since April 2008 that national unemployment was lower than the state jobless rate.

Big River Steel gets air permit

The $1.1 billion, 525-job steel mill superproject slated for Osceola in Mississippi County cleared a major hurdle by obtaining an air permit to conduct business from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Developer and investor John Correnti said the milestone puts the project “in the red zone” as he continues to shore up final financing for the deal. Correnti also said he expects a groundbreaking on the major economic project between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which will launch up to 20 months of construction. He added that the plant should be in operation by late 2015.

Burgundy Book: Two steps forward, one step backward

The latest Federal Reserve Burgundy Book, which provides a snapshot of Arkansas’ economy in the second quarter, highlights more evidence of a “two steps forward, one step backward” recovery.

The report provides statistical and anecdotal notes on 62 of the state’s 75 counties. The Little Rock Zone covers six Metropolitan Statistical Areas, including Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway/Pine Bluff//Hot Springs, along with Texarkana, Fort Smith and Fayetteville/Springdale/Rogers. Neither the Jonesboro nor Memphis/West Memphis MSAs are included in the study.

The report noted that housing activity strengthened throughout the region. It also said that manufacturing employment “declined modestly” from the second quarter of 2012, but service sector jobs from Fayetteville to Fort Smith, and trade and transportation jobs in central Arkansas were “especially brisk.”

Arkansas health exchange plan rates to be released Monday

Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford told legislators and the media that the plan rates for insurance policies on the state’s forthcoming health exchange will be released this week.

Known as the Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM), the exchange will operate with four insurance carriers providing a range of plans — gold, silver and bronze — that will offer varying benefits. Potential enrollees could qualify for subsidies or tax credits depending on income levels. The plan prices may also vary depending on an individual’s age.

The HIM is scheduled to begin operations on Oct. 1 at www.arhealthconnector.org. Enrollment for uninsured Arkansans who qualify for the plans ends on Jan. 1, 2014.

Windstream CEO reveals roundtable discussion with president

Windstream CEO Jeff Gardner is optimistic that Congress can become functional, pass meaningful tax reform and help boost a struggling economy despite new data that suggests his peers see conditions declining.

On Wednesday, Gardner attended the Business Roundtable, an elite group of about 200 U.S. CEOs, for a conversation with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. Those issues included raising the debt limit, tackling the deficit and “meaningful” corporate tax reform.

“We all think that’s possible but we need to get it done,” Gardner said.

A new report from the roundtable showed declining confidence among CEOs regarding sales and capital spending.

Arkansas bankers meet with Dodd-Frank regulator to discuss concerns

The head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, met with about 15 state bankers in Arkansas to discuss concerns related to the Dodd-Frank financial law. According to several bankers in attendance, the meeting was well-received but apprehension remains.

The meeting was co-hosted by House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, who is a banker, and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who asked Cordray to come to the state to hear bankers’ concerns on the rules and regulations impacting community banks.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an outgrowth of the Dodd-Frank law, which was passed at the urging of President Obama in response to the near collapse of several large U.S.-based banking operations in 2007-2008. Community banks have complained that many of the regulations — aimed at larger national banks — are negatively affecting local business.

Assessment for new pipeline in Arkansas begins

Tulsa-based Magellan Midstream Partners L.P. announced it has launched an “open season” to assess customer interest to transport refined petroleum products to Central Arkansas. The region lost a pipeline earlier this year when Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners announced plans to cease providing jet fuel by pipeline to Little Rock and Jonesboro, a move that threatened fuel sources for local aviation and some trucking interests.

“Open season” is an industry term for a process in which a project sponsor proposes a package of key terms and design parameters for a potential pipeline project to prospective customers and solicits bids for contracting capacity on that project.

Magellan said the project would include construction of an approximately 160-mile, 12-inch diameter pipeline capable of transporting 75,000 barrels per day of gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from its Ft. Smith terminal, providing the Little Rock market access to refined products from Mid-Continent and Gulf Coast refineries.

UA, UAPB form partnership for poultry graduates

The Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff have signed a memorandum of understanding to form a partnership to help fill a need for more graduates in the poultry sciences.

The new collaboration allows for agriculture majors with an animal science option at UAPB to take poultry science classes at UA as seniors. Those courses will be recognized by UAPB’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, and count toward degree requirements.

At the same time, those students will earn a Poultry Science Undergraduate Certificate of Excellence from UA.

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Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net

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