The Friday Wire: Notes on jobs, pollution and a farm bill fight

by The City Wire staff ( 1 views 

Changes to the Whirlpool pollution plan, the success of Krutsch, the political fight over the federal farm bill, and State of the Union disappointment are part of the Jan. 31 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

Positive and perspective with jobs numbers
The Fort Smith region saw its non-farm job numbers rise from 116,900 in December 2012 to 120,300 in December 2013. That’s a 2.91% gain, and it was enough to see the region rank 34 out of 372 metro areas in terms of percentage growth. The region ranked 327 in 2012, so the move was significant.

Also, the Fort Smith metro jobless rate fell to 6.9% in November and brought to an end 55 consecutive months in which the regional jobless rate was at or above 7%.

And while we should celebrate such numbers, we should also be mindful of how much more improvement is needed just to get the region back to the economic normals of just a few 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. Having more than 8,000 out of the labor force count is not a good thing.

Also, the number of employed was 122,993 in November. And while that is an improvement compared to November 2012, it’s almost 10,000 fewer than the 132,779 employed in 2007.

Things are better in the region, but there is a lot of ground to be made up.

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 …
Political fight to continue on ‘far from a perfect’ federal farm bill
Democrats and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., will do all they can to make political hay with U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton’s vote Wednesday (Jan. 29) against the federal farm bill. And while Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle, was the only member of Arkansas’ U.S. House delegation to post a ‘No’ vote, and while the bill was supported by the politically powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau, the political lines of the farm legislation are not as clear or as straight as the rows of a freshly planted soybean field.

Convention Center revenue rise
The Fort Smith Convention Center saw a drop in the number of events it hosted in 2013, but that did not stop the event center from having one of its best revenue years since opening.

Ross and ‘raw politics’
A long pause ensued after Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross was asked his thoughts about President Obama’s State of the Union address. Ross rolled a cough drop around in his mouth and stared ahead for a few seconds before replying: “I think that, you know, it needed more substance.”

• $15.8 million: Full year 2013 net income for Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp., a big improvement over the $7.7 million loss in 2012.

• 7.4%: The Arkansas unemployment rate as of December 2013, the most recent month data was available. The rate is an increase from 7.1% in December 2012, making Arkansas only one of six states to post a year-over-year jobless rate increase.

• 2016: The anticipated year chemical oxidation treatments will begin in and around the former Whirlpool facility in Fort Smith. The treatments are now mandated by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to treatment a spill of toxic trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing chemical whose plume has migrated to a neighborhood north of the Whirlpool facility.

The President and Costco
President Obama chose a Costco warehouse store in Maryland on Wednesday to push for a hike in the federal minimum wage, choosing Costco, the White House says, because it is "acting on its own to pay its workers a fair wage."

Officials discuss Texas-Mexico high-speed rail line
A high-speed rail line connecting San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico, could be less than a decade away from welcoming its first passengers, according to federal and Texas officials who met with Mexican officials in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to discuss the project.

More on Hillary and 2016
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained vague on Monday about whether she would run for president in 2016 and said the militant attack in Benghazi, Libya, was the biggest regret of her four years as the top U.S. diplomat.

"She is the first to  send the success of anything we do to someone other than herself. She will tell you that any Chamber success is due to the volunteers and staff we have, but I will tell you that without her committed leadership it would not be the strong and vibrant organization that it is today."
– Janie Simmons, executive assistant at the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, speaking about Jackie Krutsch, executive director of the Chamber

"A lot of this is in our alcohol sales. It took us a while to come up with the right procedures, the right equipment. We did have to make purchase of cash registers, a portable safe … things of that nature. So we also had to get our procedures down. But you can see that we're picking up steam here."
– Executive Director Claude Legris of the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission discussing the rise in revenue at the Fort Smith Convention Center during a Jan. 28 Fort Smith Board of Directors study session

"Overall, I’m disappointed with the President’s State of the Union address because he was heavy on rhetoric, but light on specifics about how we can move our country forward. I’ve always said that I’ll work with the President when I think he’s right, but oppose him when I think he’s wrong. That’s why I’ve opposed his policies on gun control, the Keystone Pipeline, military action in Syria, regulatory overreach on our farms — to name a few — and why I’ll continue to oppose his agenda when it’s bad for Arkansas and our country.”
– U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in his response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address