Business Briefs (March 2, 2009)

Hino Motors Manufacturing has laid off 157 workers at its Marion plant, which produces axles for Toyota Motor Corp. With the layoffs, the plant now has 410 workers. Toyota has cut production because sales are down, meaning less demand for Hino's axles.

Fortis Plastics LLC of South Bend, Ind., a custom-molding supplier for the appliance, furniture, building products, industrial, automotive and medical device industries, said it planned to expand production of its manufacturing operations at Fort Smith, where a number of employees were laid off in recent months. An online news organization called the City Wire put the number of layoffs at 70 in November and December, leaving about 230 workers.

Arvest Bank received national recognition for its contributions to the community at the American Bankers Association's National Conference for Community Bankers for its efforts in the Building with Habitat for Humanity category. Arvest's three-year, $250,000 initiative, known as "Built Together," had 320 Arvest bankers, families and friends join construction crews on eight different homes.

Gus Blass III, chairman of the St. Vincent Health System, has been selected as a Modern Healthcare and Witt/Kieffer Trustee of the Year. Blass was selected based on his excellence in health care governance and leadership. Blass also sits on the board of the St. Vincent Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the health system.

The Federal Reserve Board has launched a new section of its Web site expanding the information provided about the policy tools it has used to address the financial crisis. The Web site section – "Credit and Liquidity Programs and the Balance Sheet" – can be accessed at www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/bst.htm.

U.S. employers expect health care cost increases to hold steady at 6 percent this year, about twice the rate of inflation, and more plan to adopt consumer-directed health plans in 2010 in an effort to control cost increases, according to a forthcoming survey by Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm, and the National Business Group on Health.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had decreased moderately in January, declined in February, reaching yet another all-time low. The index now stands at 25, down from 37.4 in January. The percentage of consumers claiming business conditions are "bad" rose to 51.1 percent from 47.9 percent, and the percentage of consumers expecting fewer jobs in the months ahead increased to 47.3 percent from 36.9 percent.

The Arkansas Hospitality Association will hold its 2009 Convention & Trade Show on Sept. 23-24 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. A safari theme, "Wild About Arkansas," was chosen to promote tourism and vacations in the state. For booth space reservations, call Holly Heer at (501) 376-2323 or e-mail holly@arhospitality.org. To buy advertising space in the convention magazine, call Rita Walker at (501) 376-2323.

Hytrol Conveyor Co. of Jonesboro has made another round of layoffs that will leave 58 workers out of a job. The company cut 100 jobs in January. Hytrol employs 535 people after the cuts. Alberto-Culver said it was cutting production, but not any of its 175 jobs, at its Jonesboro facility.

USAble Life of Little Rock, which offers Blue Cross & Blue Shield life, disability, dental and ancillary health products, has selected SunGard's iWorks software for group and voluntary insurance product administration, as well as financial accounting and reporting.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been named one of Fast Company magazine's 50 most innovative companies. The giant retailer landed in the No. 33 slot – down from the No. 32 slot a year earlier – for its efforts in sustainability, including at the Fort Smith store, which reduced materials sent to landfills by 70 percent, and one in Las Vegas that uses 45 percent less energy than a typical Supercenter.

Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Little Rock on March 14 as the special guest of Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., at her 2010 re-election campaign kickoff event at The Peabody Little Rock. Tickets may be bought for $150 at www.blancheforsenate.com.

Existing homes sales nationwide declined 5.3 percent in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median price of a home fell 15 percent from the same month last year. Home sales fell to an annual rate of 4.49 million homes.