State education leaders are concerned that a supermajority of Arkansas public schools don’t have the broadband capability to meet forthcoming Common Core testing standards and other digital academic opportunities necessary for the future. Business representatives say the situation is not nearly as dire as projected.

A week ago, Gov. Mike Beebe convened a group of leaders representing Internet service providers (ISPs), political and educational representatives, and members of the state’s business elite to discuss the subject, which could carry a price tag for upgrades as high as three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Campaign finance reports roll in

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross set a fundraising record, bringing in nearly $2 million in his first quarter of candidacy. His primary challenger, Bill Halter, recorded only a $92,900 fundraising quarter.

Republican front-runner Asa Hutchinson raised about $379,000 during the quarter, while his challengers, Curtis Coleman and Rep. Debra Hobbs, still trail on the money front.

Sen. Mark Pryo, D-Ark., raised $1.2 million to bring his cash on hand to nearly $4 million in his re-election bid. Potential Reublican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton raised more than $611,000 during the quarter and has $1.04 million in the bank.

Fidelity to add up to 200 jobs

Tech firm Fidelity National Information Services, the former Alltel Information Services, will add 150-200 new jobs and invest $3 million at its campus in west Little Rock. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said that an effort is being made to possibly hire recently laid-off Hewlett Packard workers for the new jobs.

Also, the expansion of a health and rehab center in Alma and the Sykes call center operation in Fort Smith could add up to 220 jobs in the Fort Smith region.

Baptist Health lays off 170

Little Rock-based Baptist Health System says it will lay off 170 workers across its statewide health care network and one industry leader says more hospitals could follow suit. Baptist Health has hospitals, clinics and medical facilities throughout Arkansas. The health care organization is one of the state’s largest private employers with more than 7,300 workers.

Arkansas Hospital Association CEO Bo Ryall said that Medicare cuts from the federal sequester and Affordable Care Act are contributors to all hospitals dealing with reimbursement rate reductions.

J.B. Hunt earnings climb

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., reported second quarter 2013 net earnings of $87.7 million compared to $80.5 million one year ago. The Lowell-based trucking and transportation giant saw quarterly revenues rise to $1.38 billion compared to $1.26 billion for the second quarter of 2012.

Home BancShares reports record net income

Home BancShares, Inc., parent company of Centennial Bank, saw second quarter net income rise to $17.7 million, up from $15.5 million one year ago. It was the ninth consecutive quarter of record net income for the Conway-based bank holding company. Home BancShares recently acquired Jonesboro-based Liberty BancShares for $280 million.

Simmons First posts higher profits, notes loan improvements

Simmons First National Corp. posted second quarter 2013 net income of $6.58 million, a slight increase from the $6.54 million it reported one year ago. The Pine Bluff-based financial institution pointed to several improvements in its metrics, including an improving loan environment.

"This was the third consecutive quarter of organic loan growth. While still not enough to call a trend, we believe it is very positive in that the growth is coming throughout our markets in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.

Medicaid growth slows

Arkansas’ Medicaid program saw a marked slowdown in spending growth compared to the previous year, and state officials said the most recently concluded fiscal year produced the lowest annual growth rate in more than three decades. Medicaid’s preliminary actual expenditures for FY 2013 totaled $4.684 billion in federal and state funds compared to $4.615 billion in FY 2012. Medicaid hasn’t seen total program growth of less than $100 million in 14 years.


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; his website address is