ConAgra Foods breaks ground on $100 million expansion in Russellville


ConAgra Foods broke ground on an expanded facility in Russellville. As part of the expansion, originally announced in September 2012, ConAgra Foods is planning to invest about $100 million in the new facility and expects to add more than 80 new jobs. The facility is expanding as a result of ConAgra Foods’ acquisition of the Bertolli and P.F. Chang’s Home Menu frozen meal business from Unilever. Through the Russellville expansion, production lines will be added to produce the two new items.

Memo to feds outlines Arkansas ‘Premium Assistance’ plan

A memo to federal officials from Arkansas’ Medicaid leaders outlines the framework of the agreement driving a legislative debate on the topic.

Arkansas lawmakers, Gov. Mike Beebe and administration officials have secured permission from the feds to use Medicaid expansion dollars in a forthcoming health insurance exchange that will subsidize premiums for low-income Arkansans seeking health care coverage.

The memo, which was dated March 13 from Arkansas Medicaid Director Andy Allison, seeks to clarify details that would allow those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll in health insurance exchange plans starting in 2014.

House tax panel approves one tax cut, tax hike

The House Revenue and Tax committee approved a bill that would exempt most farmers from a sales tax on their utilities and a tax increase on timber companies. The influential tax panel approved House Bill 1039 by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, D-Warren, which would provide a sales and use tax exemption on utilities for defined areas of the agricultural sector, such as poultry producers. The fiscal impact on the measure would take about $10 million annually from state coffers.

The Republican-controlled House Revenue and Tax Committee also approved Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs. That bill would raise an existing timberland tax from 15 cents to 20 cents per acre. It would raise an estimated $700,000 annually for the Forestry Commission.

McDaniel settles tobacco agreement dispute

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced Thursday that an arbitration panel has issued a ruling that will allow a settlement to proceed between Arkansas and the tobacco companies that signed the Master Settlement Agreement. The settlement ends a long-running dispute and restores certainty to the State’s annual payments from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.

In the agreement, Arkansas will receive its share of more than half of the money that has been held in escrow for nearly a decade as the dispute was ongoing. It will also include 2013 funding, which will bring the total amount of windfall to $22.7 million.

Inuvo posts loss despite strong revenue growth

Arkansas’ newest publicly traded company, Conway-based Inuvo, had a pretty heady fourth quarter and full year in robust revenue, but it did not translate into profit. Inuvo, a consumer app and Internet advertising firm that located to Conway from New York in January, reported its fourth quarter and full year 2012 results on Wednesday.

The company showed fourth-quarter revenue of $16.24 million, which resulted in an $864,000 net loss. That was an improvement from just $6.6 million one year ago when the company lost $4.38 million.

For the full year, Inuvo reported $53.36 million in revenue, posting a $7 million loss in 2012. In 2011, the firm reported $35.82 million in revenue with an $8.97 million full year loss.

Southland, Oaklawn set monthly records for casino-style wagers

The latest statistics released by the Arkansas Racing Commission show that casino-style gambling at Oaklawn and Southland set new all-time monthly records in February. Both tracks saw nearly 14 percent increases in electronic games of skill wagering in February versus the previous year.

Hot Springs-based Oaklawn posted February 2013 EGS wagers of $92.7 million, a 13.7 percent increase from February 2012. The figure was the highest one-month EGS total in Oaklawn history. West Memphis-based Southland totaled $197.4 million in EGS wagers in February 2013, a 13.9 percent uptick from the previous year. Again, the figure was the highest one-month EGS total in Southland history.

Year-to-date in the first two months of 2013, the two tracks have already eclipsed a half-billion dollars with total EGS wagers topping $518.21 million.

• • •

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 email address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net.