The Friday Wire: Good construction numbers and fuzzy math

A Fort Smith budget battle, technology tussle, fuzzy trucking math and more notes on a U.S. manufacturing renaissance are part of the Nov. 8 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
• Construction impact
Residential and commercial construction in the Fort Smith area continues to be a bright spot – one of the few – in the regional economy.

Building permits in Fort Smith, Greenwood and Van Buren were a combined $5.944 million for the month of November, a drop of 64.82% from the same month last year when permits totaled $16.899 across the three cities. However, the three cities have continued an increase of building permit values for the year as a whole, posting a 40.12% increase in value from January through November 2013 ($195.226 million) compared to the same period last year ($139.329 million).

The city of Fort Smith posted the largest 11 month total, bringing in $166.834 million, while Van Buren had permits totaling $15.411 million and Greenwood posted only $7.576 million in permits so far this year.

• Watching consumer spending strength
Consumer spending in Arkansas bears watching. The collections, considered a barometer of consumer confidence, ended fiscal year 2013 on a down note. Collections in the segment for the fiscal year totaled $2.124 billion, up just 1.1% compared to the 2012 period, and 1.4% below forecast.

Sales and use tax collections during November totaled $175.2 million, up 1.2% from last year and 0.5% below the forecast. October collections of the tax were up just 0.3%.
Northwest Arkansas is not necessarily immune from a possible slowdown in consumer spending.  In Benton County, sales tax collections totaled $2.829 million in the November report, down 2% from a year ago. Washington County reported November sales tax revenue of $2.789 million, up 2.12% from a year ago.

ICYMI
Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it ...
• Technology tussle
The fight between Sebastian County Judge David Hudson and County Treasurer Judith Miller over financial software to be used in her office continues following a vote of the Quorum Court on Nov. 26 that would force Miller to allocate $115,000 to the county's information technology department to maintain software she said is not used by her office.

• Better connections
The ambitious effort to expand broadband capability in Arkansas public schools moved forward as two working groups accepted an engineering report and recommended the state proceed with a potential public-private partnership. Administration and industry officials have been working on a plan to boost the state’s public schools to a nationally recommended broadband capability of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff.

• Revenue predictions
Economic uncertainty combined with concerns about income growth have resulted in a lower Arkansas tax revenue estimate for fiscal year 2014 and a small projected increase for fiscal year 2015.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
$47.919 million: Estimated expenses in the fiscal year 2014 Fort Smith budget recently approved by the Fort Smith Board of Directors. Estimated revenue in the budget is $45.716 million.

71,171: Number of enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport during the first 10 months of 2013, down 2.5% compared to the same period in 2012. The decline is an improvement compared to the 7.4% year-over-year decline at the end of the first quarter.

$376 million: Estimated negative annual impact to the trucking industry by the federal implementation of stricter driver work rules. However, federal officials say the overall economic benefit of safer conditions is $280 million annually.

$91,000: Average price of foreclosed home sales in Sebastian County during October, up from $85,000 in October 2012.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
• Manufacturing renaissance?
U.S. manufacturers are enjoying a 21st-century renaissance that is riveting stock investors to industrial companies, and many analysts predict this “Made in the U.S.A.” theme could be a winner in 2014.

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• Razorback renaissance?
Bret Bielema's first season as the head coach at Arkansas was less than successful as the Razorbacks went winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in school history (first winless conference season since 1942 in the Southwest), 3-9 overall and ended the year on a nine-game losing streak.

WORD ON THE WIRE
"I just want to go on record as being opposed to this budget. I think that we haven't gone far enough to cut our expenses or increase our revenues – a $2.2 million difference between revenues and expenses."
– Fort Smith Director Keith Lau

“The agency used logic that forcing break, rest, or driving periods at a particular time was a one size fits all proposition. Cardian rhythms and all types of fuzzy math were introduced by people that have never experienced being in a truck.”
– Greg Carman, president of Fort Smith-based Carman Inc. and a board member of the Arkansas Trucking Association, about federal Department of Transportation rules that regulate hours of service for truck drivers

"(We are) putting a metal detector at the front door here. It's just the way it is today and we don't want to pull someone off patrol."
– Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman about budgeting money for a new police officer to provide security at the city offices

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