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What to Watch in 2024 (Lance Turner Editor’s Note)

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Last year around this time, I identified business news items with implications for 2023. With 2024 fast approaching, it’s time to do it again — and check on a couple of last year’s forecasts.

First, the old business. Last year, I noted the legislative session and return of Tyson Foods Inc. workers to Arkansas among stories that would make their mark this year.

The Legislative Session: I expected Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ first legislative session to be an important one. The Arkansas General Assembly, with its GOP supermajority, signed off on a tax cut and approved, with lightning speed, the governor’s K-12 education overhaul. But the four-day special session in the fall caused the most fireworks, due to the governor’s attempt at sweeping changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

OneTyson: Tyson Foods’ OneTyson plan aimed to expand its headquarters in Springdale and bring nearly 1,000 of its far-flung corporate employees home to Washington County. Not everyone was on board with the relocation, and as a result, the publicly traded meat giant has let go hundreds of workers at offices in South Dakota and Illinois.

But the bigger story turned out to be challenges in the company’s poultry and beef divisions, which have led to companywide losses and revenue declines. Tyson has since closed several meat plants and trimmed its corporate ranks.

And now, the new business. A look at 2024:

The Lithium Industry Levels Up: Arkansas’ nascent lithium mining industry will continue toward full commercial production, with efforts by companies including Standard Lithium Ltd. and Exxon Mobil Corp. gaining steam. Standard’s timeline aims for construction to begin in 2025 on a $1.3 billion facility in Lafayette County. Exxon, which announced it would begin its first drilling in south Arkansas this month, seeks to begin commercial production in 2027.

Big River 2 Begins Production: Arkansas’ next giant steel mill, Big River 2, is scheduled to begin production around this time next year. The $3 billion project is expected to cement Mississippi County as the country’s top steel producer. Once the new mill is completed next year, the Big River complex will have about 1,600 employees and average pay, with incentives, at about $100,000 a year, executives said.

The 2024 Elections: In addition to weighing in on the contentious presidential election, Arkansas voters will likely vote on a few ballot measures next year.

The Legislature has referred one that would allow lottery proceeds to provide scholarships and grants for students in vocational-technical schools and technical institutes. Voters might also be asked whether to enshrine the state’s Freedom of Information Act into the state Constitution or whether to exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the sales and use tax.

Lance Turner is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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