The positives and negatives of a regional jobs report, Edamame production in Mulberry and a Lt. Governor that rejects many calls to resign are part of the Jan. 10 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.
NOTES & ANALYSIS
• Jobs numbers: The good and the bad
The Fort Smith metro jobless rate fell to 6.9% in November, bringing to an end 55 consecutive months in which the regional jobless rate was at or above 7%.
That’s a welcome direction for the rate, but the region has a LONG way to go to return to workforce and employment levels of less than 10 years ago. The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during November was 132,163, down from the 132,867 during October, and below the 132,392 during November 2012. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in October 2007.
More troubling is that the region employed 122,993 in November, almost 10,000 fewer jobs than the 132,392 employed in June 2008.
• The drama over UA financial deficits
Odds are that no (more) heads will roll resulting from more than $6.5 million in deficits in the Advancement division of the University of Arkansas. Several high profile UA employees have been fired, but UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart appears to have avoided direct jeopardy.
In September 2013, Roger Norman, director of the state’s division of Legislative Audit, forwarded an investigative report to Prosecuting Attorney John Threet of Fayetteville. Threet eventually decided to not pursue an investigation based on the audit report.
Testimony before several Legislative panels included accusations that Gearhart was culpable in a cover up related to the deficits, but Gearhart has emerged (relatively) clean.
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 ...
• Fort Smith, Sebastian County approve water park changes
The Fort Smith Board of Directors and the Sebastian County Quorum Court approved resolutions Monday evening (Jan. 6) that would add a wave pool to the Ben Geren Aquatics Center while moving a dive well to near the bottom of the governments' priority list for water park amenities, essentially killing a part of the project that had been the focus of much contention just 11 months ago.
• Uncertain future for Mitsubishi plant
The city of Fort Smith and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce bet almost $1.8 million in 2010 that Mitsubishi would open and operate a wind-turbine assembly plant at Chaffee Crossing.
• Obamacare and premiums
The impact of health coverage through Obamacare was touted as a way to cap rising insurance costs and provide benefits to the masses of uninsured. But as 2014 gets under way many Americans are finding that is not exactly the case.
• Auto sales and the Internet
The persistent car salesman trying to put a customer behind the wheel of a car they were not looking for is likely a relic of the past thanks to the Internet.
NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
9,170: Number of unemployed persons in the Fort Smith metro area during November, down from the 9,714 in October and below the 9,704 in November 2012.
$192 million per day: The amount of money U.S. families spend supporting their children’s sports activities. That ranges from gear, uniform fees, private lessons and travel to games often played each weekend during their appropriate seasons.
55 pounds: Per person beef consumption in the U.S. in 2012. Beef consumption has fallen more than 20 pounds per person since the mid-1970s.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE
• National attention for Mulberry, Ark.
Ray Chung's family has been in the food business for more than 30 years and a few years ago, they decided to produce edamame on American soil, instead of importing it from China. After months of research, the Chungs opened their first edamame factory in Mulberry, Arkansas, which is a huge surprise to most people.
• The cost of the so-called Polar Vortex
Hunkering down at home rather than going to work, canceling thousands of flights and repairing burst pipes from the Midwest to the Southeast has its price. By one estimate, about $5 billion.
• Want to Save Money? Stop Thinking About the Big Picture
Many of us made a New Year’s resolution to save more money. Just like the resolutions to go to the gym more and eat better, though, our financial resolve will probably fall by the wayside before the snow melts. A new study says that’s because you’re probably going about it all wrong.
WORD ON THE WIRE
“I think that it’s important to realize that Mitsubishi is having to make bond payments and pay property taxes on a facility that is producing no income. So Mitsubishi has the greatest motivation to make something happen.”
– Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack when asked his thoughts about the chances Mitsubishi will do something with its mothballed manufacturing plant in Fort Smith
“This could be the last hurrah for these low, low rates and a good time for consumers to pay down credit card balances and eliminate those home equity loans and other variable interest debt they have acquired in recent years.”
– Greg McBride, chief economist for Bankrate.com, in noting that recent tapering intentions from the Federal Reserve should push mortgage rates higher in 2014
"I am not downplaying what has occurred, but there is no scandal, no conspiracy and no malicious intentional disregard of the law. If there were, it would apparently involve multiple offices and agencies. It was an oversight that should have been noticed and corrected long before now and by multiple people including myself."
– Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, R-Ark., speaking for the first time since being slapped with an $11,000 fine by the Ethics Commission for misspending campaign and state funds
"Going back to an increase in awareness, I don't believe the problem became that much worse. It's just during the months of working on this legislation, more people were talking about it. Our progress was in the news a number of times and we talked about the hotline a number of times. I'd like to believe the increase was more to do with people having greater knowledge."
– House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, speaking about the increase in calls to the human trafficking hotline in 2013, the same year the General Assembly passed laws tightening laws that address the problem