Steel mill and school expansions, drought lead top stories in 2022 for NEA

by George Jared ([email protected]) 335 views 

Drought, record sales tax collections, a new steel mill, new dental and veterinarian schools, a resignation, and a vote to slash the funding at the Craighead County library were among the top news making stories in Northeast Arkansas in 2022.

One of the worst droughts on record started at the beginning of June. For nearly two months, virtually no rain fell in Northeast Arkansas or the Mississippi Delta. The lack of rain forced farmers to irrigate sooner in the season and some had to abandon fields altogether. An estimated 160,000 acres in Arkansas were abandoned due to the drought.

As hay fields dried up, cattle farmers across the state had to cull herds. Rains briefly returned to the state in late July and early August, but an even longer stretch without rain ensued. The Mississippi River dropped to historic lows, stopping or bottlenecking shipping along the waterway. It prevented many row crop farmers from getting their crops to market.

VOTERS DEFUND CRAIGHEAD COUNTY LIBRARY

Craighead County voters decided in November to defund their library by 50%. About 14,643 (54%) voted to cut funding while 12,489 (46%) voted to keep the funding in place. The vote reduces the library’s millage collection from 2 mills to 1 mill.

The library had about $6.139 million in cash assets at the beginning of the year and is projected to collect $4.5 million this year. The public entity is “forward funded” meaning that unlike many other governmental entities it has its funding in place prior to the year beginning. It has been forward funded since the 1940s.

This year, the library has a $4.2 million budget.

Last year, the library erected a display recognizing those who identify as LGBTQ. Several board members, community leaders and conservative politicians supported an oversight committee having final say on what is displayed at the library.

There have been national movements to ban books with LGBTQ themes and storylines. The controversy at the Craighead County Library was so heated the library director and assistant director resigned. Many of those who were concerned about the LGBTQ books and themed-projects supported defunding.

Library officials stated that deep cuts would have to be made if funding was cut, including program and staff layoffs.

DAMPHOUSSE RESIGNS AS ASU CHANCELLOR; SHIELDS REPLACES HIM

Arkansas State University’s Jonesboro campus Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse opted to resign once his contract was completed June 30. He took the president’s job with Texas State University.

On July 11, the ASU Board of Trustees selected Dr. Todd Shields as its new Jonesboro campus chancellor. Shields, who has served as the dean of the University of Arkansas’ Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences since 2014, started his new job Aug. 15. He is slated to make $450,000 annually, ASU President Chuck Welch said.

U.S. STEEL TO BUILD NEW STEEL PLANT IN MISSISSIPPI CO.

U.S. Steel Corp. announced in January it would locate a new $3 billion steel factory in Osceola near its Big River Steel plant, a move expected to create 900 jobs with an average pay over $100,000 annually. It is the largest capital investment project in Arkansas history.

Work on the plant began in 2022 and its expected to be completed by 2024.

The new optimized steel production facility will feature two electric arc furnaces (EAFs) with 3 million tons per year of advanced steelmaking capability, a state-of-the-art endless casting and rolling line, and advanced finishing capabilities. Upon completion, the project will apply to become LEED certified.

RECORD SETTING SALES TAX COLLECTIONS

Jonesboro collected more sales and use tax collections each and every month than the same months in 2021. The net was result was near double-digit sales tax growth and an all-time record for collections.

Jonesboro collected $25.062 million during 2022, a 9.9% ($2.251 million) increase from 2021, according to records from City Hall. When compared to projected sales tax revenues, collections were up 7.4% ($1.723 million.). The city’s previous record was smashed in 2021 when it collected 13.8% more than in 2020.

LYON COLLEGE TO OPEN DENTAL, VETERINARIAN SCHOOLS

In April, Lyon College announced it was developing plans for proposed veterinary and dental schools to be located in Little Rock. The schools will be part of the new Lyon College Institute of Health Sciences. The schools would be the first of their kind in Arkansas.

The Lyon College School of Oral Health and Dental Medicine will reside in the Heifer Project International Campus. The facility boasts approximately 94,000 square feet of available space, situated on more than 20 acres in the East Village area of Little Rock. The schools could begin operation in late 2023 or 2024.