With the exception of Fort Smith, five of the six metro areas covered in the Little Rock Zone of the Federal Reserve's St. Louis District showed improvement or flatline stability in the first quarter of 2013.

With the exception of Fort Smith, five of the six metro areas covered in the Little Rock Zone of the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis District showed improvement or flatline stability in the first quarter of 2013.

The Burgundy Book, which analyzes smaller markets in the region, was released on Thursday by the Federal Reserve Bank. The Little Rock Zone covers six MSAs, including Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway, Pine Bluff, Hot Springs, Texarkana, Fort Smith and Fayetteville/Springdale/Rogers. Neither the Jonesboro nor Memphis/West Memphis MSAs are included in the study.

“The Arkansas economy performed about as well as the U.S. economy in the first quarter,” according to the report. “Although Arkansas’ employment growth in the first quarter of 2013 trailed the nation’s growth, unemployment rates in the largest cities were generally well below the nation’s rate.”

Attorney General , Department of Justice suing ExxonMobil on Mayflower oil spill

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer are filing a joint lawsuit against ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and Mobil Pipeline Co. for violations of state and federal environmental laws related to the May 29 Pegasus pipeline rupture in Mayflower. The complaint outlines six causes of action against the defendants related to the oil spill, which dumped heavy crude oil into waterways and a neighborhood near Lake Conway.

Program awards associate’s degrees

A new partnership will award associate degrees to Arkansas students who complete the required number of hours after transferring from two-year to four-year schools. “Credit When It’s Due” was announced during a news conference Wednesday by Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, and Ed Franklin, president of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges.

In Arkansas, 45 percent of students transferring from two-year to four-year schools complete 60 degree-eligible hours but never finish college. Those transfer students currently have nothing more than a high school diploma to show for their efforts. An associate’s degree makes them more employable, Broadway and Franklin said.

Private option opponents get green light from AG for ballot proposal

Voters may get a chance to decide whether or not to keep the “private option” plan approved by state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Mike Beebe. Tea Party activist Glen Gallas and his organization Arkansans Against Big Government have received approval from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to move forward with a ballot referendum on the Health Care Independence Act of 2013.

AABG must collect nearly 47,000 signatures to qualify for the 2014 general election ballot. A vote “for” the measure would approve and maintain the act, while a vote “against” the measure would repeal it. The “private option” approved by lawmakers allows federal Medicaid dollars to be steered to a forthcoming health insurance exchange, which is under implementation in Arkansas.

U.S. Senate approves $955 billion farm bill

The U.S. Senate approved a five-year farm bill by a 66-27 vote, with U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voting for the legislation that would cut $4 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program. The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 is the Senate’s idea for what should replace the existing farm bill set to expire Sept. 30.

Collective Bias CEO change

John Andrews, one of the founders and CEO of Collective Bias, has exited the company to pursue other interests. Bill Sussman has replaced Andrews as president and CEO of the social media marketing company based in Bentonville. Sussman was formerly the vice president of retail development and marketing at Nickelodeon where he led the consumer products business for Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

Little Rock Banker George Worthen dies

Longtime Little Rock banker George G. Worthen has died at the age of 71. Worthen came from a lineage of prominent bankers in the renowned Worthen family. He was most recently the president of Bank of Little Rock.

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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