Only in Arkansas: The Top 10 Business Stories of 2011

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 12:00 am  

Arkansas State University: The Red Wolves (10-2) made an undefeated run through the Sunbelt Conference under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze. Backed by an 8-0 conference championship, the team was awarded a bid to the Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to face the Northern Illinois Huskies on Jan. 8.

ASU enjoyed its first 10-win regular season since its legendary 1975 campaign, backed by a passing offense that ranked No. 26 in the nation (273.6 yards per game). The team amassed 5,441 yards of total offense during 2011, a school record and the first time the 5,000-yard mark was surpassed.

The shock of Freeze resigning to accept the head coaching gig at Ole Miss was replaced with the euphoria of hiring Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator at Auburn University.

University of Central Arkansas: The Bears (9-4) made their first appearance in the Football Championship Series playoffs in just the team's second season of eligibility. UCA advanced to the second round, losing 41-14 to the Montana Grizzlies on the sub-freezing Sprinturf of John Hoyt Field in Missoula, Mont. All the team's losses came against opponents that ended the season as conference champions.

Clint Conque, in his 12th season as head coach at UCA, was named among the 20 finalists for the 25th annual Eddie Robinson Award honoring the national coach of the year in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.

No. 9
Dillard's Dazzles

In 2011, Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock continued its major turnaround.

For the three quarters ended Oct. 29, its net income was $120.8 million, compared with $70 million for the same period in 2010. And its sales were $4.29 billion during that time, compared with $4.17 billion during the same period in 2010.

Its same-store sales were up every month except for February and March, when they were off only 1 percent.

This is coming from the retailer that suffered through 18 months of same-store sales declines between August 2008 and January 2010. But then in 2010, Dillard's managers started a stronger push to close underperforming stores, trim expenses and appeal to the affluent customer. At the end of 2010, it announced it was opening a 852,000-SF Internet fulfillment center in Maumelle to support the growth of its online sales, which Dillard's doesn't separate in its filings. The center is expected to open in 2012.

Other strategies paid off in 2011. In January, Dillard's announced it was going to move ownership of some of its real estate into a real estate investment trust. It was unclear, though, what Dillard's exact plans were for the REIT. Dillard's and its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP of New York, couldn't agree on when the tax benefit related to the REIT should be recognized. Dillard's wanted it to be claimed in future earning periods. The Internal Revenue Service agreed with Dillard's, and Dillard's fired PricewaterhouseCoopers in October. It has hired KPMG LLP of New York as its replacement.

After the REIT announcement, Dillard's stock price soared. It started the year at $38.45 and then reached a record high of $61 in July. Last week, the stock price was trading just over $43.

Other stock prices of Arkansas companies were also on a wild ride in 2011. The stock price for Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado started out at $57 in January 2011 and zoomed up to $70 a share in April, fell and then hit $76 in October. It has since fallen to just over $59 during the week of Dec. 19.



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