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Business Briefs: June 12, 2013

Former USA Drug magnate Stephen LaFrance dies unexpectedly

Retired USA Drug magnate Stephen LaFrance, Sr. of Pine Bluff passed away in his sleep Tuesday night unexpectedly. LaFrance, 71, had sold his massive USA Drug franchise and warehousing business last July for $438 million to Walgreen’s. The transaction included 144 stores operating under the USA Drug, Super D Drug, May’s Drug, Med-X and Drug Warehouse stores located in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

KATV chairman Dale Nicholson dies at 74

Legendary KATV Channel 7 chairman and former general manager Dale Nicholson died at his home in Little Rock Saturday night. He was 74 years old. Nicholson began his broadcasting career in El Dorado in 1962 and served as the general manager of Channel 7 for decades as it became a ratings powerhouse.

Former State Treasurer Shoffner indicted on 14 charges

Former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was indicted on federal charges Wednesday. Shoffner, 68, faces a 14-count indictment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The charges include seven counts of receipt of bribes by an agent of state government receiving federal funds, six counts of extortion, and one count of attempted extortion. Last week, a federal judge in Little Rock rejected Shoffner’s guilty plea in the case.

State revenue trending higher in home stretch

Arkansas’ revenue picture looks strong as the state heads into the final month of its fiscal year as individual income taxes and sales taxes were strong in May. State gross revenues cleared the $5 billion mark for the first time and net revenues are poised to do the same by the time the state’s fiscal year closes at the end of June. Year-to-date net available general revenues totaled $4.48 billion, up 5.6 percent above year-ago levels and four percent above expectations, while gross revenues for the year topped $5.59 billion.

Beebe says unemployment fund in the black, paying back FED debt

Nearly two years after the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund found itself $360 million in the hole, Gov. Mike Beebe says the jobless safety net has paid back half its federal debt and is operating in the black.

“Two years have passed, and we’ve reached an important milestone. We are still paying back the federal government, but the total has dropped by almost half to $193 million. Meanwhile, the Trust Fund has been replenished and now has a $205 million balance,” Beebe said.

Five insurance carriers to compete for Arkansas exchanges

Five insurance carriers submitted letters of intent to participate in Arkansas’ forthcoming health insurance exchanges, according to the state Insurance Department. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Celtic/Novasys, QualChoice of Arkansas, and national Blue Cross Blue Shield met a Monday, June 3 deadline to announce their plans to bid for the state’s insurance exchange, known as the Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). United Security Life and Health Insurance Co. submitted a letter of intent after the deadline, but insurance officials said they would extend the period to allow United to qualify.

Jay Shue named Arkansas Medicaid Inspector General

Gov. Mike Beebe named Jay Shue of Little Rock as Medicaid Inspector General. The position was created by the 89th General Assembly to oversee an independent office that will work to prevent, detect and investigate Medicaid fraud. Shue, 43, has directed the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office since 2007. Prior to that, he spent 10 years as a deputy prosecutor for the Sixth Judicial District.

Tyson Foods acquires California-based food processor

Tyson Foods, Inc. will acquire the assets of Claridge Corp.’s Circle Foods, LLC, a producer of frozen and refrigerated handheld Mexican foods, uncooked tortillas and Indian flatbreads. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. California-based Circle Foods has been in business for 25 years and operates a state-of-the-art plant in San Diego, and also produces private label products for various customers.

UALR launches ‘Game Changing’ Emerging Analytics Center

UALR launched the George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center (EAC), a program that state and higher education officials describe as a “game changer.” The EAC, located on the fourth floor of UALR’s Engineering and Information Technology building, features data visualization systems that are among the first of their kind in the world.

These systems, including the trademarked EmergiFLEX and the Mobile EmergiFLEX systems, were custom designed and built for UALR by Mechdyne Corp, a leading provider of visual information technologies headquartered in Marshalltown, Iowa. UALR officials say the EAC will serve in partnership with business, sciences, healthcare, education, and engineering fields.

Gerber expansion could add 90 jobs in Fort Smith

More jobs are expected to come to Fort Smith thanks to continued expansion at the Gerber plant on the city’s north side. Gerber is expanding operations to add a cereal line which could lead to 90 new hires.

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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

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