The Arkansas Business Best & Worst of 2008

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 12:00 am  

Worst Prognostication
For the second consecutive year, the worst prediction came from Page 1 of the year-end issue of Arkansas Business. The headline on the Dec. 24, 2007, issue read, "2008: Economy Should Improve by Year's End." No comment necessary. (The headline on the Dec. 25, 2006, issue: "Acxiom Transforms, Performs." As we said in 2007, it "seemed reasonable at the time.")

Best Museum-in-the-Making
That's easy: Crystal Bridges of American Art in Bentonville. And when it opens, whether in 2010 as scheduled or later, it will be the Best Museum in Arkansas, hands down. Arkansas has some fine museums, but Crystal Bridges – with the vast wealth of the Walton family, particularly Alice Walton, behind it – is poised to become the best museum of American art in the world. With works by John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Eakins, an architecturally distinguished building and a beautiful natural setting, the museum is likely to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to northwest Arkansas annually and provide an unparalleled boost to the state's image.

Best Green Development
The year 2008 saw Arkansas becoming a force in the emerging wind-energy industry with windmill blade-maker LM Glasfiber's opening of two plants in Little Rock and the announcements that several other wind energy-related companies were locating in the state.

Best Comeback After a Betrayal
The Oxford American, based at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, gets that nod. The literary magazine's comeback: winning a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; releasing its 10th anniversary Southern Music Issue; publishing its first book, "The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing"; and finally figuring out how to meet deadlines. The means to these ends was the appointment of Warwick Sabin as publisher. The betrayal: An Oxford American employee who allegedly embezzled $104,000 from the magazine. Although the publication has a ways to go, its trajectory appears headed upward.

Worst Response Time
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services sent a letter to Arkansas Business in October asking if we still needed the public documents we requested under the Freedom of Information Act – in September 2004.

Worst Editorial Restraint
That was exercised by Roby Brock, the man behind the "Talk Business" TV show, Web site and quarterly magazine. After reported that Hewlett-Packard Co. was coming to Conway, three days before what was supposed to be a surprise announcement, Brock wrote that he had known about the economic development coup in April but exercised "editorial restraint" because "advance reporting on the project could jeopardize one of the largest white-collar job announcements in state history." According to Brock's own reporting, HP had sealed the deal by June 6, meaning that our June 16 report didn't jeopardize anything.

Worst Argument Against Prison Delay
Frank Whitbeck tried to delay reporting to prison by saying he needed more time to pass along his management know-how to caretakers of his financially challenged Winrock Grass Farm. It was Whitbeck's questionable management skills that resulted in the financial insolvency of Signature Life Insurance of America and the bankruptcy of the grass farm.

Best Reward for Failing
Little Rock's Equity Media Holdings Corp. maintained its 10-year history of losing money before getting dragged toward bankruptcy court this year. Amazingly, insiders such as Greg Fess and Larry Morton have profited handsomely all along the way.

Worst Time to Be Home Alone
Aaron Jones, bound hand and foot with duct tape, emerged on a neighbor's doorstep with a wild story of surviving a murder attempt by gun-toting, fire-starting intruders during the wee hours of May 30. Federal investigators continue to examine the mysterious arson of his million-dollar manor in west Little Rock's Chenal Circle neighborhood.

Best Dispute to Unnerve City Hall
Battle lines have formed between one-time allies and civic boosters to support/oppose a proposed seven-story Aloft Hotel in Little Rock's River Market District. The planning commission and city board are the next two fields of combat that place City Hall in no-man's-land.

Best Affirmation of Real Estate Slowdown Residential
If Deltic Timber Corp. officials needed more convincing that the upscale housing market was slowing down in west Little Rock, they got it on Sept. 25. The opening of Accadia Court, with lot prices averaging about $90,000, attracted only one buyer. Not so long ago, most of the 32 lots in the Accadia Court neighborhood would have sold or gone under contract on the opening day.

Best Affirmation of Real Estate Slowdown Retail
On paper, about half the space in The Promenade at Chenal was leased as construction of the $64.5 million retail center in west Little Rock wound down in 2008. However, those deals haven't resulted in as many openings as expected at the 340,000-SF lifestyle center for RED Development of Kansas City, Mo. "It's no secret that a number of retailers have scaled back on the number of stores," said Ken Huge, general manager of the project.



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