Unbuilt Steel Mill Biggest 2013 Arkansas Economic News

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 8:46 am  

John Correnti takes the prodium during the Big River Steel announcement. (Photo by Jason Burt)

LITTLE ROCK — A $1.1 billion steel mill proposed for northeast Arkansas was the state's biggest economic announcement of 2013, but excitement over the plant was tempered by job losses elsewhere in Arkansas.

Big River Steel announced in January that it planned to build a mill in Osceola but signals that construction would start in 2013 proved optimistic.

Economic development officials say the project's financial backers are still on board but regulatory permits have been slow in coming because a competitor, Nucor Steel in Blytheville, has filed objections.

Arkansas Business' Top 10: Big River Steel was No. 5 on Arkansas Business' top 10 business stories of the year. See the full list here.

Some of the state's employers had job losses during the year. Hewlett-Packard Co. announced in July it would lay off 500 people at a service center in Conway, but late in the year said it would add 200 positions that are expected to pay better than the jobs the company eliminated.

Nordex USA Inc. ended production at its Jonesboro wind turbine facility, laying off about 40 people.

Arkansas economic officials had worked hard to recruit companies in the wind energy business, but the lack of a permanent tax credit for wind energy generation kept down orders. LM Wind Power in Little Rock, which makes windmill blades, announced in August that it would lay off half its workers — 94 full-time employees and 140 temporary workers. The tax credit is to expire at the start of 2014.

Hawker Beechcraft closed its Little Rock aircraft finishing center, laying off 170 people, but the city still has a strong aviation presence with Dassault Falcon Jet, which announced a major expansion.

The French company is to spend $60 million to expand its factory, which completes the interiors of its private jets. The plant at Little Rock's airport has about 2,000 employees.

State and local officials kicked in an incentive package to help Dassault with the project, including $2 million from Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund to go toward renovations and new construction. The company qualifies for tax breaks and the city's airport commission added 40 years of rent credits that will be worth $43 million.

Some companies that the state worked to recruit, Hewlett-Packard and Nordex among them, will have to repay incentives because they did not meet job targets.

Nordex is repaying $2.5 million in incentives, and the state was negotiating with Hewlett-Packard.

Allied Wireless, Nice-Pak of Jonesboro and Pinnacle Foods in Fayetteville have repaid a total of $215,000 after coming up short on employment targets after receiving a total of $8 million in economic incentives.

Food companies announced new plants in Clinton and Springdale.

A Vietnam-based company, Vinh Long, announced it would occupy a vacant factory in Morrilton, where it plans to spend $5 million and hire 75 workers to make home-furnishing products that will be supplied to Ikea and other retailers.

Other Vietnamese companies do business in the United States, but the announcement was notable because it marked the first time that the Vietnamese government helped broker the deal.

In December, a company that makes resins announced a $5 million expansion and addition of 50 jobs at its plant in Mountain Home. Epoxyn Products specializes in making work surfaces suitable for use in laboratory environments.

Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops opened its first Outdoor World store in Arkansas during the fall. The sporting goods retailer settled on a site along Interstate 30 in southwest Little Rock.

The store is the anchor of a planned development that will include offices, hotels, restaurants and factory outlet stores.

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