The Whispers Blog
Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
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For Data Privacy Day — led by the National Cyber Security Alliance and celebrated today in the U.S., Canada and 27 European countries — Little Rock's Acxiom Corp. is promoting the measures it's taken to make its data mining activities more transparent.
According to CEO Scott Howe, the company's AboutTheData.com consumer portal will soon be upgraded.
"We are working on some major enhancements to AboutTheData.com to provide more visibility, value and control to consumers," Howe said in a news release. "It is our hope that others in the industry follow suit in providing increased transparency and choice — developments we belief benefit everyone."
The portal was launched September, attracting both praise and skepticism, and as of December had seen around 500,000 visitors.
The company also announced it would host a global conference on the topic of ethical use of personal data this fall, along with a competition awarding $100,000 in grants recognizing "the brightest thinking" on that topic.
"When used appropriately, we believe data is a catalyst for better decisions, experiences and societal progress," said Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Acxiom's chief privacy officer. "We hope this conference will fuel a constructive discussion on the topics of personal data usage and control; we welcome the submission of papers with innovative, progressive ideas."
More details on the conference will be released "in the near future," the release said.
The Wall Street Journal's Theo Francis (a former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter) examines why American companies are so cautious about adding jobs even as factories run at capacity.
The piece begins with an anecdote from Malvern, where Prime-Line Inc. makes medium- and light-density fiberboard moulding and millwork for nationwide distributors including Lowe's. You might remember that the company announced in November an expansion and plans to add 50 workers.
Francis talks to Brian Feeney, Prime-Line's CEO:
Mr. Feeney is just now taking the leap of faith to invest in the housing recovery that has kept his plants at capacity after the housing crash six years ago. "It's that beaten-dog mentality," said Mr. Feeney, Prime-Line's chief executive. "We were thinking, 'this is too good to be true.' "
As public companies continue to unveil their year-end results this week and offer insight into prospects for 2014, the future of many of America's job seekers rides on how many executives are willing to take the plunge Mr. Feeney took last fall. The news so far is mixed.
Francis finds that companies across the country are balking at hiring, afraid that the fragile economic recovery will falter. There's more on what other companies are doing, as well as Feeney 2014 and 2015 growth expectations, in Francis' full story.
The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas is sharing a report with members today that says businesses in Arkansas will face $27 million to $40 million in tax increases if the Legislature doesn't renew the "private option" during its next session, which begins next month.
The report, written by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, is available here (PDF).
"This additional expense will have a chilling effect on the growth plans of Arkansas businesses," Randy Zook, president and CEO of State Chamber/AIA, said in an e-mail. "With nearly 100,000 Arkansans still unemployed, those companies do not need to deal with added costs."
Zook's comments and the Jackson Hewitt report are being circulated a day after John Selig, the head of Arkansas' Department of Human Services, told a legislative committee that he doesn't have a backup budget if lawmakers block funding for the private option.
At that same hearing, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, characterized the private option as being "on life support at best."
Prospects for the private option have been cast into doubt after Republican John Cooper won a northeast Arkansas Senate seat in a special election last week after vowing to block the measure, and Republican Sen. Missy Irvin, a key deciding vote for the private option last year, declared over the weekend that she no longer supports it.
Renewing the private option will take 27 votes in the 35-member Senate and 75 votes in the 100-member House.
The El Dorado Promise, which today marks its seventh anniversary, has issued its 2014 annual report. You'll remember that the program, announced in 2007 and funded by Murphy Oil Corp. of El Dorado, gives El Dorado Public Schools graduates the chance to earn college degrees tuition-free. The brief report says that there have been 1,444 Promise scholarship recipients to date.
Other notable numbers:
- 90 percent of the 2013 Promise-eligible class enrolled in college.
- 91 percent of Promise college freshmen completed at least one year of college.
- 62 percent have completed at least two years of college.
The report also includes figures on where Promise scholarship recipients have attended college. The report said 21 percent attended South Arkansas Community College; 17 percent attended Southern Arkansas University; 12 percent attended the University of Arkansas; and another 12 percent attended the University of Central Arkansas.
You can download the brief, two-page report here (PDF).
Yesterday, our Jan Cottingham reported on Tyson Foods Inc.'s acquisition of Bosco's Pizza Co. of Warren, Mich.
Bosco's, which is not related to the River Market restaurant, makes stuffed breadsticks and frozen pizzas. It serves the food service sector and retail customers throughout the Midwest and some retailers nationwide. Tyson says the deal is perfect for its plan to expand its prepared foods offerings.
Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but there's no way it comes close to the value of another purchase Reuters reports that the meat processor is considering.
That'd be a $2 billion-plus acquisition of Michael Foods Group Inc., a large distributor of egg and dairy products.
Citing three "people familiar with the matter," Reuters said last week that Tyson is exploring a possible deal with Michael Foods' current owner, a private equity unit belonging to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Reuters says Goldman "is in the early stages of finding a buyer," and that it sources cautioned that Tyson might "ultimately choose not to move forward with an offer." Tyson, Michael and Goldman would not comment for the story.
If it turns out to be true, the deal would be among Tyson Food's biggest, but not the biggest. That honor would still belong to the company's 2001 merger with IBP Inc., which weighed in at about $3.2 billion.
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