Business Briefs for Dec. 12, 2005

• St. Vincent Health System has become the first in the state to allow uninsured patients to pay the same prices for health care as insured patients. Normally insurance companies and government-sponsored programs negotiate discounts with hospitals. St. Vincent plans to bill based on the average rate billed to insurers.

• The Bank of Fayetteville, which has had a national charter since its opening in 1987, has converted to a state-chartered bank. The bank has assets of $387.4 million. Mary Beth Brooks, bank president, said local regulators are easier to deal with than officials in a faraway office.

• BancorpSouth Inc. of Tupelo, Miss., on Dec. 1 completed its acquisition of American State Bank Corp. of Jones-boro and the collapse of American State Bank into its BancorpSouth Bank charter. The merger expands BancorpSouth's market presence in the state and gives it 59 offices in Arkansas and approximately $1.9 billion in deposits. BancorpSouth also is adding a loan production office in Fayetteville for commercial real estate, construction and mortgage lending. It's the company's first entry into northwest Arkansas.

• Arkansas ranks fifth in a national survey of how much states spend of their 1998 tobacco settlement money to prevent young people from smoking. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says Arkansas spends $17.5 million dollars a year on tobacco prevention programs.

• Arkansas Precast Corp. of Jackson-ville has bought a portion of the former CertainTeed facility at Hillsboro, Texas, and plans to expand manufacturing operations there. The company manufactures precast concrete panels for use in projects ranging from high-rise buildings to traditional masonry construction. The facility will mean 40 new jobs to the area immediately and as many as 100 jobs by 2010.

• J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. has been named to Network World magazine's list of 50 Enterprise All-Stars. The company was recognized for two technology projects designed to reduce costs and improve customer service.

• Dillard's Inc. will be an anchor tenant with a 100,000-SF department store in Ames, Iowa, as part of Wolford Development Inc.'s new lifestyle center. Dillard's ranks among the nation's largest fashion apparel and home furnishings retailers with annual revenue exceeding $7.8 billion. The shopping center is projecting a fall of 2008 opening including the new Dillard's store.

• Alltel Corp. has reached a two-year agreement to sell its wireless phones and services at Kmart stores, opening kiosks at 43 Kmart stores in 15 states. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The company said the Kmart kiosks will offer Alltel's "Greater," "National" and "Total Freedom" calling plans, as well as a complete line of "Axcess" data services. Customers will also be able to make payments at the kiosks.

• The Internal Revenue Service said the standard mileage rate used to calculate automobile costs will be 44.5 cents per mile starting Jan. 1, 2006. That's a decline from the 48.5 cents a mile rate the IRS put into affect in September when gas prices spiked. The latest change reflects the adjustment IRS made after prices have dropped.

• Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield is working with health savings administrators and The Vanguard Group to offer more simple choices within its consumer-directed health plans. The new HSA, available in January, will offer 20 Vanguard fund alternatives for participants.

• First Federal Bancshares of Arkansas Inc. of Harrison has completed its stock repurchase of 251,801 shares. The board authorized the repurchase of another 248,316 shares, about 5 percent of the company's outstanding common stock.

• Craighead County Farm Bureau was named the top county Farm Bureau in the state and given the President's Award at the Arkansas Farm Bureau's 71st annual convention. This is the third straight year and the fourth of the last five Craighead County has received the honor. Kevin Hoke of Jonesboro is county president.

• The Department of Health & Human Services' BreastCare program is seeking nominations for individuals and organizations to be recognized for the annual Josetta Wilkins Awards, which honors efforts in breast cancer education, research, advocacy, treatment, support or services for those in need. The award is named for former state Rep. Josetta Wilkins of Pine Bluff. Nomination forms and additional information are available online at www.ArBreastCare.com or by calling Becky Kossover at (501) 280.4097. Nominations are due by Feb. 15, 2006.

• Potlatch Corp. has named Michael J. Covey, 48, currently executive vice president at Plum Creek Timber Co. to be president and CEO, effective Feb. 6, 2006. L. Pendleton Siegel, 63, chairman and CEO of Potlatch since 1999, will continue as chairman through the end of 2006.