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The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce used its biggest forum -- its annual statewide meeting in November -- to launch a new initiative to help businesses battle opioid addiction.

It seemed an odd connection at the time -- developing economic opportunities across Arkansas has been the chamber's primary mission. Isn't opioid use a medical or health challenge?

Now comes evidence that building economies and providing jobs helps communities avoid opioid-related deaths.

The American Medical Association in its JAMA Internal Medicine journal published findings on Dec. 30 that noted automotive plant closures from 1999-2016 were associated with increases in opioid overdoses. "These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis," the study reported.

Five years after a plant closed, the study noted that there was an 85% increase in overdose deaths compared with areas where auto manufacturing was thriving. The study was conducted in 112 manufacturing counties, primarily in the South and Midwest.

Arkansas is taking care of business by working to improve economic conditions. Over the past five years, companies have committed more than $10 billion in new capital investments to Arkansas, according to state economic development officials.

To battle opioid addiction and its impact on businesses, the state chamber joined forces with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care.

Their Together Arkansas coalition promotes a proactive approach to battling problems created by opioid use, not waiting until the economy worsens and unemployed workers turn to the drug to ease the pain of having lost a job.

Together Arkansas encourages private businesses to collaborate to improve public health and battle declining worker productivity and ever-increasing health care costs. The public-awareness effort is centered on a robust marketing campaign to promote practices that help businesses and their employees navigate the crisis.

The problem is crippling businesses -- Arkansas is tied for the state economy most damaged by the opioid crisis, the coalition reports.

In Arkansas, 43,400 workers were taken out of the labor force because of opioid use from 1999-2015 and an estimated 574 million work hours were lost. The state economy lost $33.5 billion in productivity because of the problem.

Nationwide, statistics show that 75% of employers have dealt with opioid use in the workplace. Insurance provider The Hartford reports that 56% of small businesses say they have been affected or expect to be affected by opioid use.

Since launching two months ago, coalition partners have used their business networks, especially local chambers of commerce, to spread word about the effort. Coalition leaders have met with other organizations fighting opioid abuse to build a united approach: the Arkansas Drug Director, the Attorney General's Prescription Drug Summit and the Arkansas Department of Health among others.

Together Arkansas provides employers with detailed information about legal and operational issues that need to be considered when dealing with a worker's opioid use.

There is a five-module video course that can be completed in just more than an hour. The group is working on a sixth module focusing on recovery and the support that can be provided to employees battling addiction.

The courses and more information is available at togetherarkansas.com.

CENTRAL ARKANSAS BUILDING BOOM

Central Arkansas' regional planning agency, Metroplan, reports that the area achieved more construction activity than it has in a decade.

The agency's annual economic review and outlook reported that the four-county region reached $1.26 billion in construction activity in 2018, based on city building permit records.

Adjusted for inflation, that ranks as the best year since 2007 and also marks two consecutive years of rising value, and the fifth highest building activity recorded in the region.

Residential construction was valued at $395 million. Little Rock led the way with $154 million in residential construction, followed by Conway at $79 million, Sherwood with $34 million and Maumelle at $32 million.

New single-family homes hit their highest median value yet recorded at $196,666. Maumelle saw its single-family median value surpass $300,000 for the first time ever.

LAW FIRM MERGER

Three noted Arkansas law firms are combining forces to create McDaniel, Wolff & Benca, which will be based in downtown Little Rock.

The firm also has built a new headquarters at the corner of West Fourth and South Pulaski streets. The design of the two-story, 7,170-square-foot building is meant to complement the design of the state Capitol, which is a five-minute walk away.

Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is a partner in the firm. It will provide full services that include litigation, tax planning, attorney general investigations and government relations, criminal law, education law, family law and real estate.

The three firms combining forces under the new name are: McDaniel, Richardson & Calhoun; Wolff & Ward; and Benca & Johnston.

FARMING IN THE CITY

Farmers from across the region will gather in Little Rock this week to discuss and learn more about sustainable and organic farming, and creating more vibrant community food systems.

The general conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group will be held in Little Rock on Friday and Saturday and costs $250 to attend. There is a $10 fee to attend the conference trade show on Friday and Saturday.

This year's conference focuses on Agriculture Resilience in a Changing Climate. Southern SAWG focuses on issues related to food production, marketing and distribution. The conference is one of the region's leading sustainable and organic agricultural events.

SHE GOT A DEAL

Congratulations to teenage entrepreneur Sofia Overton. She jumped into the Shark Tank with nationally renowned investors and came out swimmingly.

Sofia's sock company, Wise Pocket Products, won a $35,000 investment that included 25% equity in the business from sharks Lori Greiner and Daymond John.

"You've got everything it takes to be a really great entrepreneur," Greiner told Sofia before an offer was made.

Indeed, Sofia showed some bravado in rejecting the original offer of $30,000 and 33% equity.

Well done, Sofia, well done.

SundayMonday Business on 01/19/2020

CORRECTION: The general conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group will be held in Little Rock on Friday and Saturday and costs $250 to attend. There is a $10 fee to attend the conference trade show on Friday and Saturday. The fees were incorrectly described in an earlier version of this article.

Print Headline: State chamber program tackles opioids to help businesses stay afloat

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