The Friday Wire: Home sales, Whirlpool and Hillary

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 127 views 

An Arkansas Congressional district political fight, analysis of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, possible recovery in the region’s home sales and a dig at Whirlpool by Gov. Mike Beebe are part of the Nov. 8 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

• Finally …
It appears that the housing market in the Fort Smith metro area – Crawford and Sebastian counties – is beginning to see signs of stability. The signs come anywhere from 18 months to two years after the housing market in other Arkansas metro areas began to recover.

For the first nine months of 2013, the number of homes sold is up 7.3% in the Fort Smith area, according to The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report. During September, home sales totaled 158, up 9.72% compared to September 2012, and up 19.7% compared to September 2011.

In fact, the Fort Smith metro was the only one of Arkansas’ four largest metro areas in September to see a gain in the number of homes sold and the average price of a home sold.

It’s too early to suggest a trend, but the direction is promising. Keep your fingers crossed.

• Notes on the Arkansas consumer
The October report from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration provides a hint that the Arkansas consumer is keeping a tight hold on the purse strings.

Sales and use tax collections in the October report totaled $171.8 million, up just 0.3% from last year and 3.8% below the forecast. Year-to-date sales and use tax collections were $739.1 million, up 4.8% above last year. While an almost 5% gain appears positive, it’s less than what Arkansas officials expected. The year-to-date tally is just 0.4% above the budget forecast.

The  trend of relatively minor growth in sales and use tax collections continued in the October report. 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.

• A fight brewing in the 4th
Prior to Tuesday (Nov. 5), the conventional wisdom was that Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District would remain in the Republican ledger. 

The 4th District includes much of the eastern half of the Fort Smith metro area – including half of Alma and Crawford County – and includes Madison County in the Northwest Arkansas area.

Republicans Tommy Moll and House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman are running for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor for re-election next year.

But on Tuesday, Democrat James Lee Witt made it official that he is in the 4th District race. Witt, a former Yell County judge and director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Clinton Administration, becomes to the second Democrat to announce for the seat following an announcement by Hot Springs educator Janis Percefull.

Witt, with his extensive connections to political influence and political pocketbooks, changes the political picture in the 4th.

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 …

• Positive permit tally
Building permits for the cities of Fort Smith, Greenwood and Van Buren ring in at a staggering $189.282 million, a 54.6% increase over the same 10-month period last year of $122.43 million.

• Fort Smith budget review
Members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors were presented with a copy of the proposed city budget at Tuesday night's (Nov. 5) regular meeting. The proposed 2014 budget totals $201.1 million, with an operating budget of $110.1 million and a capital projects budget of $91 million.

• Pushing back against human trafficking
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) announced Wednesday that he has established a statewide task force to focus on preventing human trafficking and raising awareness about the issue.

125: Number of years the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce has been active.

262: Arkansas’ 2013 score among 8th graders taking the reading test as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress program. The U.S. average was 266.

$1.958 billion: Gross tax collections in Arkansas during the first four months of the state’s fiscal year (July 2013-Oct. 2013), up 4.1% compared to the same period in 2012.

28%: Percentage of single-family homes in Sebastian County built since 1990. The U.S. average is 30%, and the Arkansas average is 37%.

• Hillary Clinton in the catbird seat?
Presuming her health is solid, there is no one better positioned to be the next president. Here are five reasons why Clinton will have a much easier run at the White House, should she make one, in 2016 than she had in 2008.

• Fines for the Mayflower oil spill
Exxon Mobil faces a fine of nearly $2.7 million for a pipeline spill of thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil in an Arkansas suburb last spring. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found nine probable violations of safety rules in the rupture of the nearly 70-year old Pegasus pipeline that forced residents to evacuate their homes.

• Wal-Mart retirement plan shift?
Wal-Mart Stores has the ninth largest plan with $18 billion in assets, according to BrightScope. The Bentonville-based retailer is talking to Wells Fargo & Co's retirement division about managing the program, which has been administered by Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit for 15 years, sources have told Reuters.

"It wasn't that long ago that Whirlpool packed up and took off to Mexico for cheap labor. That's being reversed, not by Whirlpool, but across the board. This country is starting to make stuff again in ways that (have been) sorely needed for a few decades.”
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, during a speech at the 125th anniversary celebration for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce

“We’re back, and we’re back strong. We’re going to continue to move rapidly through our turnaround and return this company to profitability as quickly as possible and restore shareholder value. This organization is focused. This organization is committed.”
USA Truck CEO John Simone, when asked about the future of the Van Buren-based trucking company that is fighting off a hostile takeover attempt

"I've spent my adult life bringing people together during the toughest times of their lives in disasters. Nowhere needs disaster relief more than Washington. No place needs to be brought together more than Congress. I don't claim to know everything, but I do know that name calling and partisan bickering aren't going to solve any problems."
James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, in his announcement that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District