Speaking at the 20th annual University of Arkansas economic forecast luncheon in Rogers on Thursday, economist Kathy Deck said that for the Arkansas economy 2014 will look a lot like the experiences of 2013.

Deck said the rate of job growth in the state will continue to be slow and Arkansas will struggle to reach its pre-recession employment peak. She noted that employment growth in Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas has been healthy this past year, but those regional improvements are not enough to compensate for losses in rural areas of the state.

Deck also noted that despite population growth in Arkansas, the labor force has seen a decline of 1.2 percent during the past four years. Some reasons for the decline include Baby Boomer retirees, workers returning to school, and some giving up looking for work altogether.

Gov. Beebe proposes $5 billion balanced budget

In what should be his final legislative session, Gov. Mike Beebe proposed a $5 billion budget that includes increased funding for prisons and public schools, projected savings from the private option and a pay hike for public employees. Beebe, who is term-limited, will leave office in January 2015. State lawmakers began budget hearings this week in anticipation of the Feb. 10 start to the biennial fiscal session.

Bank of the Ozarks net income up 13 percent for year

Bank of the Ozarks Inc., reported net income of $24.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2013, an 18.1 percent increase from $20.7 million for the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year of 2013, net income totaled $87.1 million, a 13.1 percent increase from $77.0 million for the full year of 2012. The Little Rock-based bank’s results for 2013 included the July 31, 2013 acquisition of The First National Bank of Shelby in Shelby, North Carolina.

Home Bancshares posts record earnings in 2014

Home Bancshares Inc., parent company of Centennial Bank, reported record net income for the year ended Dec. 31 of $66.5 million compared to $63 million for the year ended 2012. For the fourth quarter of 2013, Conway-based Home Bancshares recorded quarterly net income of $13 million compared to $16.9 million of net income one year ago. Home Bancshares acquired Liberty Bank of Jonesboro last summer in a $280 million deal, which dragged on fourth quarter earnings.

Simmons First-Metropolitan Bank merger results in branch closures

The acquisition of Metropolitan National Bank by Pine Bluff-based Simmons First led to expected bank branch closings, which were made public by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency this week.

Simmons filed applications with the regulatory agency to close 27 branches in parts of Arkansas. Most of the closings are in Central and Northwest Arkansas where the two banks had overlapping locations. The 27 branches are slated to cease operations on March 22.

First Federal asks investors to approve name change amid private placement

Harrison-based First Federal Bancshares recently outlined the terms of a pending name change to Bear State Financial and a private placement totaling $20 million. Bear State Financial Holdings controls more than 15.6 million shares, roughly 78 percent of First Federal’s outstanding shares. Shareholders must approve the change during a special meeting scheduled for March 5. Former Alltel Corp. executives Scott Ford and Rick Massey are shareholders and board members of First Federal.

Nanomech to add 25-50 jobs at expanded Springdale headquarters

NanoMech announced it has purchased its existing factory and will build an adjoining state-of-the-art facility in Springdale. The roughly 25,000-square-foot building will triple the size of current operations and will serve as the company’s world headquarters. The new factory and expanded headquarters will provide for 25-50 new jobs for scientists and support staff. NanoMech is a research firm that produces products to strengthen materials, reduce friction to extend the useful life of durable products and develops applications to cut down on bacteria strains.

Baldwin & Shell announces promotions, leadership changes

Little Rock-based Baldwin & Shell Construction Co., a 68-year old construction firm and one of the largest in the state, announced changes in leadership and several promotions throughout its divisions. Scott Copas has been elevated to President and CEO, while former CEO Bob Shell will assume the role of chairman of the board.


Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net