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AEDC director: For economic recruiting, ‘Cash is king’

Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Grant Tennille told state lawmakers that “cash is king” over any other economic incentive or tax policy. Tennille was giving a review of state economic recruiting policies to the Joint Revenue and Tax Committee, which is studying potential changes to the Arkansas tax code.

“Very simply put, when we’re talking to companies, cash is king,” Tennille said, primarily in reference to the governor’s $50 million Quick Action Closing Fund. “Because cash is the motivator, you’ve got to leave us with a bucket of cash to play with. Otherwise, we’re out of the game.”

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An effort to raise the severance tax to a flat 7 percent has failed to meet the signature threshold to be placed on the November ballot, but supporters will be given another 30 days to meet the legal requirement.

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office notified Sheffield Nelson, leader of the Committee for a Fair Severance Tax, that of the 69,774 signatures submitted, only 21,347 were valid registered voters in Arkansas. The number of valid signatures represents 30.5 percent of those submitted, meaning nearly 70 percent were rejected.

The requirement to qualify for the ballot is 62,507 and state officials said Nelson would have another 30 days to obtain additional signatures or prove that rejected signatures should be counted as valid. The Secretary of State’s office said Nelson’s group had until August 2012 to meet the 30-day extension.

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Late Tuesday, state Medicaid officials released documents showing they expect the state to save about $372 million over a 7-year period if Arkansas were to opt into a Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law. The savings would come from additional federal money, more compensation for indigent care, and potential new state revenue from the financial boost that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds would inject in the state’s economy.

While Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said he was “inclined” to support the expansion, which could provide health care to another 250,000 uninsured Arkansans, several prominent Republican lawmakers have said they are opposed to the expansion and have asked for more details from state and federal officials.

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Newport Television LLC, the private equity group that owns two television stations in Little Rock, announced a deal on Thursday to sell a slew of its stations to 3 different groups.

Newport signed agreements to sell its portfolio of TV stations to Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and Cox Media Group for approximately $1 billion.

Nexstar, which has TV stations in Little Rock and Fayetteville, will own 10 TV stations from Newport. It says it worked in partnership with Mission Broadcasting for the two Little Rock stations, KLRT-TV (Fox 16) and KASN-TV (CW 38), in order to avoid potential regulatory conflicts from owning too many stations in one market. A joint press release from Nexstar and Mission said Mission actually will acquire the two Little Rock stations.

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J.B. Hunt Transport Services continued its steady climb in revenue and earnings despite declining truck hauling revenues in its legacy transportation sector. The Lowell-based trucking, transportation and logistics company recorded second-quarter net profits of $80.5 million on revenue of $1.26 billion. The earnings increase topped 22 percent, while revenue rose by 9 percent.

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USA Truck saw its base revenue and quarterly losses grow as the Van Buren-based trucking firm found difficulty shifting out of reverse. On Thursday, USA Truck reported a second-quarter loss of $3.5 million on revenue of $103.5 million. One year ago, the company posted a $600,000 net loss on sales of $108.5 million. At the six- month mark, USA Truck is riding an $8.4 million loss, more than four times the loss it reported a year ago.

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Home BancShares Inc. reported a rise in second-quarter earnings as its rapid growth strategy paid dividends. The Conway-based bank holding company, parent to Centennial Bank, reported second-quarter earnings of $15.5 million compared to $12.9 million one year ago.

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The latest Arkansas Consumer Confidence Report shows improvement in several key areas as residents are feeling more comfortable with their personal finances, job security and spending levels. But overall conditions remain negative.

Key findings:

—About 13 percent said their financial situation improved in the last six months compared to 38 percent who said it worsened. About 49 percent said their personal finances remained the same.

—17.5 percent said they would spend more in the next six months, while 42 percent said they would spend less. About 40.5 percent said they would spend the same.

—Conserving money and worries about the future were the biggest reasons for spending less (87 percent), while inflation, or higher cost of goods and services (63 percent) was the reason many thought they would spend more.

—13 percent thought the state economy was good, while 49 percent said it was bad. Roughly 38 percent said it was normal.

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Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes a column for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central Arkansas. His e-mail address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net.

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