Banner Year in Arkansas: The Top 10 Business Stories of 2013

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 12:00 am  

While there isn’t a wholesale move of smaller hospitals in Arkansas looking to merge or affiliate with larger hospitals in the state, that prospect might be on the horizon because of dramatic Medicare cuts found in the Affordable Care Act. During the next 10 years, Arkansas hospitals are projected to lose $2 billion in Medicare reimbursements.

In other hospital news, NEA Baptist Health System announced a ribbon-cutting ceremony in December for its new medical complex.

The 50-acre campus on the north side of Jonesboro features a 550,000-SF hospital.

NEA said it spent $400 million to build and furnish the new facilities, which will house 500 health care jobs. NEA will start seeing patients on the campus in January.

5. Big River Steel

2013 began auspiciously for manufacturing in Arkansas, with the announcement that Big River Steel LLC planned to build a $1.1 billion steel mill in Osceola with a full-time payroll of 525 at average yearly pay of $75,000. That’s in addition to the 2,000 temporary construction jobs to build the plant.

Big River Steel CEO John Correnti of Blytheville termed the 1,140-acre site “steel mill heaven,” and said that average salaries could soon approach $100,000 after the plant opens.

Gov. Mike Beebe, calling the project the “largest economic development deal in the state’s history,” and Correnti made the announcement on Jan. 29 at the state Capitol. That location was deliberately chosen.

Beebe and Correnti said the project depended on the state Legislature approving a multimillion-dollar package of incentives, including a $125 million bond issue under Amendment 82 of the Arkansas Constitution, the first time the “superproject” legislation was to be activated. The amendment, approved in 2004, authorizes the Legislature to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds to pay for infrastructure to attract big economic development projects — like steel mills.

That $125 million was to fund startup costs and included a $50 million loan to the company, $50 million for site preparation, $20 million to stabilize the surface and $5 million for bond insurance.

Legislators in April approved the bond package, despite objections from Nucor Corp., which runs two steel mills near Blytheville. Nucor said the Big River mill threatened Arkansas’ existing steel mill industry, but lawmakers and state officials remained unsympathetic.

Later in the year, however, manufacturing in Arkansas suffered a blow with the June 28 announcement by Nordex USA that it was stopping production at its wind turbine plant in Jonesboro. The plant, which had expected to eventually employ 750, cut 40 of its 50 workers. The company said its decision was based on “the wind industry’s global overcapacity and the continued uncertainty and instability of the U.S. market.”

More bad news came on July 28 when Hewlett-Packard said that it was laying off 500 people at its services center in Conway. HP said the move was part of a restructuring process announced in May 2012. But then on Dec. 18, HP announced it was hiring 200 software engineers and programmers through 2014, helping soften the blow of the earlier layoffs.



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