State unemployment steady at 7.2 percent, but labor force shrinks again


Arkansas’ jobless rate was 7.2 percent in March, unchanged from February and just slightly below the 7.3 percent in March 2012. March marks 50 consecutive months that Arkansas’ jobless rate has been at or above 7 percent. March also continued a trend in which the jobless rate improved but declines in the size of the workforce and number of employed point to ongoing weakness in Arkansas’ economy.

The number of employed in Arkansas during March was down an estimated 31,744 compared to March 2012, but the number of unemployed fell from 99,332 in March 2012 to an estimated 95,987 in March 2013.

The workforce size shrank from an estimated 1.337 million in February to 1.329 million in March. The workforce totaled 1.365 million in March 2012, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wal-Mart tops $1 billion in charitable giving

Officials with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the the Wal-Mart Foundation announced that the company and foundation have given more than $1 billion in cash and in-kind contributions during the most recent fiscal year.

Wal-Mart said it is the “first time Wal-Mart or any U.S. retailer has achieved that level of giving.” Wal-Mart said the increase in giving was boosted by in-kind donations in the U.S. to food banks and to families suffering through disasters.

Arkansas was one of the top beneficiaries of the giving, with the total from Wal-Mart and the foundation reaching $72.807 million, second only among the 50 states to Texas, which received $86.211 million.

P.A.M. Transportation posts first quarter loss

P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc. reported a first-quarter net loss of $456,267 compared to a $674,193 profit in last year’s comparable period. Revenues topped $99.98 million during the quarter, an increase from one year ago when revenues topped $96.15 million. P.A.M. President Daniel Cushman said the company was focused on driver retention and improving payoffs from fuel efficiency efforts in order to reduce expenses.

Deltic Timber reports significantly higher Q1 profits

El Dorado-based Deltic Timber Corp. reported first-quarter profits of $6.77 million, a huge jump from a $97,000 profit a year ago. Deltic’s manufacturing segment reported operating income of $11.3 million, an increase of $9.7 million from the previous year as the lumber market continued to show steady improvement.

Teamsters, Arkansas Best again extend ‘frustrating’ labor talks

Contract negotiations described as “frustrating” between Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have again been extended, with May 31 the new deadline. The Teamsters issued a statement on April 19 suggesting that new proposals from Arkansas Best have put the negotiations “at risk.” The existing labor contract between ABF and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters expired March 31 for the nearly 7,500 Arkansas Best employees represented by the Teamsters.

Entergy Arkansas to light 3 downtown Little Rock bridges

Three bridges spanning the Arkansas River across downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock will be illuminated by year’s end thanks to a $2.4 million gift from Entergy Arkansas and an assorted group of businesses and governmental entities. The announcement was made last week by Entergy Arkansas President Hugh McDonald and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola. McDonald said the gift is part of a celebration of the electric company’s 100th anniversary in Arkansas. “This project is very much in line with what we do — light things up,” he said.

Legislative session draws to a close

Arkansas lawmakers adjourned Tuesday after approving a massive $4.9 billion spending bill and $170 million in surplus funds.

The Revenue Stabilization Act, which lays out the state’s spending priorities, was approved. It included increases for public education, Medicaid, and salaries for state employees. Legislators also approved a $125 million bond package for incentives for a $1.1 billion steel mill superproject to be located in Osceola, Ark. (Mississippi County).

Lawmakers also passed more than 1,500 laws — including $120 million in tax cuts — and referred three proposed constitutional amendments for the 2014 general election.

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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