Arkansas’ August unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent the fourth straight month of an increase and another 24-year high as the number of those without jobs continues to rise.

In August, another 1,200 Arkansans joined the jobless roles, according to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services. For the month, there were 1,235,800 in the state’s civilian labor force, while an estimated 112,000 were unemployed.
Arkansas’ jobless rate has moved from its year low of 7.7 percent in April 2011 to its current rate of 8.3 percent. One year ago, unemployment stood a full half-percent lower at 7.8 percent. In July 2011, unemployment was 8.2 percent. The U.S. jobless rate was unchanged at 9.1 percent.

$161 million in misspent unemployment benefits revealed
New data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that Arkansas apparently made $161 million in erroneous unemployment payments during a time when the state’s trust fund for benefits ran a deficit.
The $161 million misspent funds in Arkansas were part of a reported $19 billion in overpayments made among all 50 states during the last three years. In the last fiscal year, Arkansas’ overpayments of unemployment benefits totaled about $50.3 million, more than 12 percent of total benefits paid out in the past 12 months. State workforce officials are analyzing the data.
Arkansas’ unemployment trust fund went as deep as $360 million in debt to the federal government as the state borrowed money from the feds to pay for jobless benefits. Arkansas legislators and business leaders changed a number of provisions in the past two sessions to repair the trust fund’s solvency and projected that the state could be debt-free by 2015.

AEDC chief Maria Haley dies after brain aneurysm
Maria Haley, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, died Tuesday night from a brain aneurysm she suffered last Friday. She was 70.
Haley, appointed by Beebe following his 2006 election as governor, directed an agency with more than 100 employees, and came to the state with extensive national and international experience.
During Haley’s tenure at AEDC, Arkansas landed major projects including Graphic Packaging (Fort Smith) Hewlett-Packard (Conway), LM Windpower (Little Rock), Mars (Fort Smith), Mitsubishi (Fort Smith) and Nordex (Jonesboro). There were also significant expansion projects secured under her direction from companies like Dassault Falcon Jet (Little Rock), Georgia-Pacific (Crossett), Golden Living (Fort Smith) Saint-Gobain (Saline County), Southwest Power Pool (Little Rock) and Windstream Corp. (Little Rock).

State’s U.S. House delegation votes to curb NLRB influence
All four of Arkansas’ congressmen voted in favor of a measure aimed at curtailing the National Labor Relations Board influence in business decisions involving unionized and right-to-work states. The measure (H.R. 2587) would prohibit the NLRB from ordering any employer to close, relocate or transfer employment under any circumstance.
The bill stemmed from a controversial NLRB ruling earlier this year in which the labor panel accused Boeing of locating a new jetliner factory in South Carolina instead of Washington state to avoid dealing with unions. South Carolina is a right-to-work state, while Washington is not.
Boeing officials denied the accusation and the NLRB ruling is winding its way through the legal process. Workforce officials in Arkansas, also a right-to-work state, have worried that the NLRB ruling could impact job recruiting to the Natural State. The Congressional vote on Thursday was expected to stall in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.

State resumes truck driver training school
A truck driver training program in Newport is back in gear. The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, in partnership with Arkansas State University-Newport and the Arkansas Trucking Association, says it will resume the Truck Driver Training Pilot Initiative.
The program covers tuition and related training expenses if an applicant completes a four-week training course at the Commercial Driver Training Institute at ASU-Newport and remains on the job for at least one year.
The program originally started in September 2008, but stalled in November 2009 due to the recession and the economic downturn. The transportation industry is now experiencing a shortage of qualified truck drivers, which necessitated the resumption of the program. As many as 300 graduates earning an average of $35,000 annually are expected to graduate from the training in the next year.

Beckmann Volmer breaks ground on $12 million phase one project
Beckmann Volmer, a German-based manufacturer of major steel components for wind turbines, broke ground on phase one a $12 million facility that will employ about 300 workers in Osceola.
The project is phase one of a potential two-phase project. Beckmann Volmer officials said they will consider phase two of the project, an additional $7.5 million investment and the hiring of 200 more employees, after phase one is completed.
Beckmann Volmer is a direct supplier to Nordex, which has a manufacturing facility in Jonesboro, along with several additional wind-energy companies. Employees at the Osceola plant will produce turbine main frames - the structural backbone of the turbine.

Georgia-Pacific to shutter key Crossett operations ‘indefinitely’
Georgia-Pacific will “indefinitely suspend” its Crossett sawmill and a plywood sheet manufacturing facility, a move that could result in direct layoffs of 700 workers. The plant will shutter its operations on Nov. 7.
Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific has had a presence in Crossett since 1962 when it acquired Crossett Lumber Co. and 565,000 acres of timberlands. 
In addition to the plywood facility and sawmill, G-P also has a chemical plant and pulp and paper production plant in Crossett, where it employs about 2,100 workers. It also has operations in Fordyce, Fort Smith and Gurdon.
Company officials said that weak market conditions, particularly in the housing and construction industry, were responsible for the decision. Last year, Georgia-Pacific announced a $250 million investment in its Crossett pulp and paper plant. That investment will not be affected by the closure decision.

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 Web site address is www.talkbusiness.net.