Thursday, December 3, 2009

Week in Review

State Capitol Week in Review
LITTLE ROCK – Last year Canada was Arkansas's biggest international business partner. More than 21 percent of Arkansas exports, valued at $1.2 billion, were shipped to Canada in 2008.
Coming in second was Mexico, whose companies bought $796 million of products made in Arkansas. That represented almost 14 percent of Arkansas exports.
China was our third largest purchaser of Arkansas products, according to figures compiled by the Arkansas Economic Development Department. Arkansas sent $321 million of commodities and products to China. That was 5.5 percent of the total amount of Arkansas exports last year.
Switzerland, Japan, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Belgium and Saudi Arabia round out the top 10 countries that did business with Arkansas exporters.
Aircraft and aircraft parts were the single largest category of Arkansas exports in 2009. They were valued at $1.4 billion and represented 24 percent of all the products shipped overseas. Machinery accounted for almost 12 percent of our exports and cereals accounted for 9 percent.
The other major categories of products that we exported, in order of their monetary value, were organic chemicals, electrical machinery, meat, plastic, iron and steel, vehicles and paper or paperboard.
There are 13 plants in Arkansas owned by firms in the United Kingdom, and 13 owned by French companies. The department has an office in Tokyo and Beijing whose purpose is to maintain relations with businesses in Japan and China.
Enhancing business opportunities in global markets is just one of the duties of the Economic Development Department. It also administers incentive programs, in which companies receive tax breaks in proportion to the number of jobs they create. Some incentives are tied to the salaries offered and some are offered when a company locates in an area of high unemployment.
The department can help with financing and job training. It has an office whose purpose is to help minorities set up their own businesses. Also within the department is the Arkansas Film Commission, which helps movie makers scout locations and make arrangements with local officials if film production is expected to disrupt traffic.
Act 816 of 2009 updates a variety of incentives available to film makers. In each legislative session, lawmakers usually pass several bills to keep Arkansas competitive in recruiting new industry, and to encourage expansions by industries already in Arkansas.
Prison Chief Retiring
Larry Norris, who has been director of the state Correction Department for the past 16 years, announced that he would retire in January. He has worked at the department for 39 years. He served as head of the agency longer than director.
The governor will recommend a replacement and the state Board of Correction has final approval of who is hired.
When Norris became director 16 years ago there were 14 units in the state prison system. Since then five more units had been added. They are the Varner Supermax, Ouachita River at Malvern, the McPherson unit for women near Newport, the Grimes Unit near Newport and the J. Aaron Hawkins Senior Center near Wrightsville.

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