AR BIZ: Top 10 stories of 2012, Part 2

    7:28 PM, Dec 31, 2012   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Arkansas Business is taking its annual look back at the top 10 business stories of the year. Here are number five through one:

    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.

    For numbers 10 - 6, click here.

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