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    Arkansas Business: Top 10 stories of 2012

    4:46 AM, Jan 1, 2013   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Lance Turner takes a look back at the most important business stories in Arkansas that took place during 2012.

    10. The ups and downs of Arkansas' manufacturing sector
    The down side of the manufacturing sector was several plant closures and openings that affected thousands of Arkansas jobs. The up is that Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. of Chicago announced in January that Yarnell's Ice Cream Co. of Searcy, which had closed suddenly in June 2011, was making a comeback.

    9. Arkansas banks continue out of state acquisitions
    Arkansas banks continued growth by snapping up what bank companies were available in states like Florida, Missouri and Alabama. Simmons First National, Centennial Bank, Bank of the Ozarks and Arvest Bank all expanded their footprints outside Arkansas will such acquisitions.

    8. Fallout from the financial collapse of 2008 continues
    Much of this was visible in Arkansas' real estate scene. In northwest Arkansas, developer Joe Whisenhunt got a steal of a deal, $19 million cash, for 375 acres of prime improved real estate in Benton County, and in northeast Arkansas, developer Bruce Burrow filed for bankruptcy, listing $17 million in debts and $14 million in assets.

    7. Shares of Dillard's Inc. bounce back
    The department store chain seeing resurgence in its share price opened the year at about $45 per share and closed November at $89 per share. The company expanded its online reach by investing $4 million in e-ecommerce company Acumen Brands of Fayetteville, and in September, it opened an 852,000 square-foot Internet fulfillment center in Maumelle to support the growth of its online sales division.

    6. The GOP takes control
    Arkansas Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction won majorities in both the state House and Senate. The party also captured all four Arkansas congressional seats, making U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor up for re-election in 2014- the only Democrat left in Arkansas' Congressional delegation.

    5. Sell-out and scandal USA Drug of Pine Bluff
    USA Drug, led by the Stephen LaFrance family, announced in July that it would sell its business to Walgreens in a $438 million transaction, which ranked among the biggest involving an Arkansas company nearly the last two years.

    The deal came amid a tough year for the LaFrance family. Former CFO John Atwood served less than a year in state prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than half a million dollars through billing fraud from 2001 to 2004.

    4. Another Murphy Oil spinoff
    The publicly traded oil company based in El Dorado announced plans to spin off its gas station business into a separate, publicly traded company early next year. This would be the second time in the last 20 years that Murphy Oil has created a separate company -- the last being timber and real estate company Deltic Timber in 1996.

    3. A milestone and a black eye for the world's largest retailer
    During its 50th year anniversary, Wal-Mart was exposed first in an article in the New York Times in April bribery allegations within the company's international divisions, particularly Mexico, where Wal-Mart is said to have paid off local officials to help build its retail presence there.That's opened the doors to other scrutiny, including in India, where the officials are considering investigating whether Wal-Mart broke that country's law against lobbying the government.

    Wal-Mart is conducting its own internal investigations into all the allegations. The retail company also spent the last half of the year facing off against labor unions, which planned protests and store walk-outs on Black Friday.

    2. Big changes in Arkansas health care
    Lots of new things are on tap for 2013 and beyond as the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is implemented throughout the country. In Arkansas, the debate has been and will continue to be about the expansion of Medicaid.

    Republicans and some Democrats have been reluctant to extend Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but Gov. Mike Beebe threw his support behind it, and now some Republicans have signaled that they'll work toward some kind of compromise for expansion.

    University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and St. Vincent announced that they are exploring some kind of partnership, and Capella Healthcare is still working on acquiring Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs -- this, despite early objections from leadership of the Catholic Church in Arkansas.

    1. The long, terrible year for the Arkansas Razorbacks
    It's a story we now know only too well. The sky-high optimism that began 2012 with the football Razorbacks predicted to be national title contenders under head coach Bobby Petrino. All that came crashing down after Petrino's now infamous April Fools' Day motorcycle crash that revealed an affair with an athletic program employee. That led to the firing of Petrino and the appointment of John L. Smith as interim coach, and the story devolves from there.

    There was the distraction of Smith's $40 million bankruptcy tied to bad real estate deals in Kentucky, a slew of injuries, and nobody can forgive a 4-8 season. All this was happening as the university moved ahead with construction of a $40 million football operations center and planed for hundreds of millions of dollars in other building projects which had been predicated on a Petrino-led national-title-contending football team.

    Things are starting anew in 2013 with new coach Bret Bielema. Once again there's hope that a multi-million athletic program that means so much to the daily life of this state can bounce back in the new year.

    (Source: Arkansas Business)

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