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The Friday Wire: The female libido and the retail dance

The desires of Benton County home buyers, Mike Huckabee’s thoughts about the female libido and the financial dance between Wal-Mart and its suppliers are part of the Northwest Arkansas Friday Wire for Jan. 24.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
• On the retail chargeback watch
While the Northwest Arkansas has greatly benefitted from the thousands of suppliers who do business with Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the relationship between the retail giant and the many vendors is not always warm and friendly.

A small industry has cropped up in recent years to audit the financial give and take between the Wal-Mart number crunchers and vendors who sometimes find themselves on the short end of the crunched numbers. 

This dance will become more interesting as Wal-Mart moves to influence and respond to the global retail dynamic that often sees the narrowing of margins place pressures on relationships. It may not always be pretty, but it’s a dance we plan to watch and study.

• Recovery (finally) for Arkansas’ real estate market 
It’s been more than six years since the bubble burst on Arkansas’ real estate market, but figures from Arkansas’ four largest metro areas suggest the industry found its legs again in 2013.

The number of homes sold in Arkansas’ four largest metro areas totaled 20,644 during 2013, the first time since 2007 that the tally topped 20,000 and the value of the homes sold in the four markets topped $3 billion. The gains were healthy in all four markets, according to The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report. During 2013, the number of homes sold in central Arkansas are up 10.44%, up 12.89% in the Jonesboro area, up 17.98% in Northwest Arkansas, and up 7.36% in the Fort Smith area.

The healthy pace of sales may be tough to maintain in 2014 with interest rates expected to rise in 2014 and ongoing concerns about the stability of the U.S. economy. And even if the pace continues, home values may plateau, especially if interest rates rise throughout the year.

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 ...

• The construction report
Home builders and others employed in the local construction industry can easily sum up 2013 with just two words — steady work.

• The agri report
Agriculture is still king in Arkansas despite being the home of the world’s largest retailer, a robust trucking industry and a quickly evolving start-up sector.

• The health and wellness report
Health and wellness is big business for Wal-Mart’s Stores Inc. garnering roughly $30 billion in sales, which was 11% of the retailer’s total U.S. sales in fiscal 2013. Sales grew 3.8% from the prior year but the retailer is barely scratching the surface of opportunities as there are major shifts underway in this segment.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
• 11%: Percentage of respondents in a Kantar Research study who said they had purchased grocery items online in the previous 90 days.

• 50%: Percentage of Arkansas respondents in a recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll who say Arkansas should provide no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship. 24% said gay couples should be allowed to form a civil union, but not legally marry. 21.5% said gay couples should be allowed to legally marry in Arkansas.

• $500 million: Arkansas Farm Bureau estimate of cattle production in the state during 2013.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
Mike Huckabee and the female body
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Thursday charged that Democrats are conflating women’s rights with access to birth control. Democrats, Huckabee said, believe women are “helpless” — that they “cannot control their libido or reproductive system without the help of the government.”

• Wal-Mart and the NLRB challenge
A challenge by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to Wal-Mart Stores Inc's treatment of striking workers is likely to become a critical symbol of labor unions' attempts to organize the many non-union workplaces in the United States in the face of stiff resistance from management.

• Thoughts from Arkansas CEOs
If Arkansas businesses were cars, most have been in the “shop” for months now. Well, it’s starting to look like many of them will be taking to the streets the first half of 2014.

WORD ON THE WIRE
“Most buyers want to look at the entire area first, but after seeing the individual towns, schools and factoring in commute time, if they work in Benton County they usually want to live here. They often want to be near the Pinnacle shopping area and they like Bentonville schools.”
– Jerry Dou, a Realtor with Keller Williams, about the real estate market in Northwest Arkansas

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“It took the industry a decade to recover that export volume lost in December 2003. The sustained drought and record grain prices of the past couple years also weighed heavy on the beef industry, but barring some weather catastrophe or disease outbreak, 2014 should be better for many Arkansas farmers.”
– Travis Justice, senior economist with the Arkansas Farm Bureau, about the health of Arkansas’ beef industry in 2013

“Other issues that sometimes get a good deal of air time, such as health care, lag dramatically behind economics. The centrality of the economy and jobs as the key issue crosses all demographic and political subsets of Arkansans. The key test for candidates in this political environment is offering a vision of an economic future for the state that resonates with voters.”
–Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, about a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll that suggested 55% of Arkansans believe economy/jobs is the number one issue during the 2014 election cycle

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