Entergy Corp. officials say more than 769,000 utility customers have been knocked offline by Hurricane Isaac in a three-state region. At its peak early Thursday morning, Isaac left 769,458 customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi without power, making it the fourth-most damaging storm in Entergy history in terms of outages. The only storms with larger customer impacts have been Katrina with 1.1 million affected customers, Gustav with 964,000 and Rita with 800,000, the company said.

UAMS, St. Vincent exploring affiliation

St. Vincent Health System and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) say they are exploring a potential affiliation as they signed a letter of intent. The move is a result of federal and state health care reform initiatives, which UAMS and St. Vincent officials describe as creating opportunities to improve and reduce each organizations’ health care costs.

"Like many health care systems across the country, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and St. Vincent Health System are exploring ways to strengthen their organizations to better serve the residents of central Arkansas and the state," the two groups said in a release.

Windstream denies bribery charge in Oklahoma case

Windstream Corp. has been indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges related to a former Oklahoma school superintendent, but the company denies wrongdoing. Former Broken Arrow Superintendent of Schools Jim Sisney also was indicted in allegations regarding 2007 NCAA Final Four basketball tickets in Atlanta.

"We have always taken great pride in serving our customers with integrity. We have cooperated fully in the investigation and will vigorously contest the charges," said John Fletcher, vice president and general counsel for Windstream.

The indictments outline a series of events in the early months of 2007 where Windstream identified its top sales customers for potential tickets and travel to the NCAA basketball tournament.

Metro jobless rates decline from one year ago

All eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had jobless rate decreases in July compared to July 2011. Unfortunately, seven of the eight saw an increase in the jobless rate between June and July. During July, the lowest metro jobless rate was in Northwest Arkansas with 6.1 percent, and the highest rate was 9.8 percent in Pine Bluff. Arkansas’ state jobless rate was 7.3 percent in July 2012.

AEDC director touts re-investment tax break

Arkansas Economic Development Commission director Grant Tennille told lawmakers that the state should consider eliminating the sales tax paid by manufacturers and other industries who upgrade their facilities. The tax break would affect state revenues by roughly $40 million. Tennille said that the tax treatment has been cited by businesses as a reason to expand plants in other states instead of Arkansas.

Beebe makes two major appointments

Gov. Mike Beebe (D) named Stan Witt of Austin as the new director of the Arkansas State Police on Monday (Aug. 27). The announcement comes after Colonel J.R. Howard notified Beebe of his intention to retire at the end of August.

Beebe also announced that Ancil Lea of Conway will be the new coordinator for the Arkansas Office of Health Information Technology (OHIT), taking over for retiring Ray Scott. Lea is currently the executive director of HITArkansas, a regional extension of health information efforts through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Northwest, Central Arkansas leaders setting agenda

Business leaders from northwest and central Arkansas met a second time to develop an agenda for greater collaboration. The two groups met earlier this year in Fayetteville and Bentonville with a quick outcome being a new marketing web site to draw movie and TV productions to the state. The two groups met again last week in Little Rock and reported making progress on several fronts, including support for a highway tax proposal this November and a potential agenda for the 2013 legislative session.

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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 Web site address is www.talkbusiness.net.