Arkansas Business headlines for Jan. 16

    7:46 AM, Jan 16, 2013   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Stocks mixed despite a boost from retailers.

    The Dow rose nearly 28 points to 13-5-35. The Nasdaq sagged down seven to 31-11. The S&P gained 2, back to a five-year high of 14-72. 

    Stocks in retail companies closing higher after a report showed that December sales were up, with the best showing since September.

    The numbers showed consumer confidence -- despite what was then a looming uncertainty over the fiscal cliff.

    That could influence how investors react to what is now the uncertainty over the nation's debt ceiling.

    Here in Arkansas, the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, rolling out a three-point plan to improve the national economy.

    The retailer says it wants to put to work 100,000 veterans to work in its stores and offices, beginning after Memorial Day.

    The unemployment rate for veterans is three percent higher than the overall national rate.

    Walmart also saying it will spend more than $10 billion on American-made goods over the next decade, and it says it will make an effort to promote its part-time employees to full-time status in a speedier fashion.

    Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, made the announcements yesterday at an annual retail industry convention in New York.

    Also yesterday, Gov. Mike Beebe laying out his agenda in his final State of the State address, part of the legislative session that got underway on Monday.

    As promised, the thrust of Beebe's speech centered on Medicaid, specifically Beebe's push to expand the program to 250,000 more Arkansans under the new federal health care law.

    Gov. Mike Beebe urged skeptical Republicans to not sacrifice Arkansas' share of federal dollars by rejecting the expansion, saying that doing so would jeopardize the health of their constituents.

    State budget officials had projected a $138 million shortfall in Medicaid funding in the next fiscal year -- but Beebe also said during the speech that the number is now "more manageable" and would allow the state to avoid a proposal to cut some nursing home care to help make up the deficit.

    Even with all the debate surrounding Medicaid, Beebe said his main priorities remain education and economic development.

    And he hinted that the state is close to landing a major economic development project one Beebe described as, quote, one of the biggest projects this State has ever seen.

    Beebe and other state officials refused to offer more details about what the project could be.

    But Joe Holmes of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission offered two minor clues. One, is that the governor would need the legislature to approve state-backed bonds for funding.

    Another, is that the deal would constitute a new business making an investment of more than $1 billion to set up shop in the natural state.

    To put that in perspective, we looked at several of the biggest economic development deals of the past 12 years and found nothing close to that kind of money.

    The biggest, at $200 million, was the Nestle and Millard Refrigeration Services operation, announced in Jonesboro in 2001. 

    Caterpillar, 2009 - $140 million
    Mitsubishi, 2009 - $100 million*
    Nordex, 2008 - $100 million
    LM Wind Power, 2007 - $150 million
    Welspun Pipes, 2007 - $100 million
    Nestlé, Millard Refrigerated Services, 2001 - $200 million

    (Source: Arkansas Business)

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