The Best & Worst of 2007

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2007 12:00 am  

Arkansas Traveler's Bill Valentine and North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays were big news in March when the $33 million Dickey-Stephens Park opened on the north side's downtown.

Worst Prognostication
"Acxiom Transforms, Performs," said the front-page headline on the final issue of Arkansas Business for 2006. And it got worse. "Looking back from several years in the future, 2006 might be remembered as the year Acxiom turned the corner," we wrote. It seemed reasonable at the time. Acxiom Corp. had delivered four consecutive quarters of solid financials, patched up its differences with its largest shareholder, ValueAct Capital Partners of San Francisco, and started to impress industry analysts. Five months later, ValueAct and Silver Lake Partners offered $3 billion for the company. Five more months later, ValueAct and Silver Lake paid $65 million to get out of the deal. By last week, Acxiom's market capitalization was below $900 million. What did we know?

Worst Exit
Charles Morgan, "company leader" of Acxiom for 32 years, moved his residence to Dallas as soon as the sale to ValueAct and Silver Lake was announced - admittedly in order to avoid paying Arkansas state income tax on the windfall of more than $80 million he expected to receive for his personal stockholdings. At that time, he was still planning to continue as the new owners' hire hands. Then, when the sale collapsed, he announced that he would retire as soon as a new CEO could be hired. And a few weeks later, he retired as both CEO and chairman even though no successor had been identified. The board of directors gave him a $3 million parting gift.

Worst Plan to Save Money
When Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock was shopping the data-mining company around to potential buyers, it showed a PowerPoint presentation that projected savings of almost $25 million in the next fiscal year from "offshoring" jobs, including to Poland. What that means for Acxiom's 7,100 employees is still unclear.

Worst Stock Market Rumor
On May 21, the New York Post reported that Dillard's Inc. had "put out tentative feelers to bankers"; the stock hit $40.56 that day, its highest price since 1999. Almost three weeks later, the same reporter, Suzanne Kapner, took it back. "Dillard's CEO William Dillard II had, in fact, been talking to bankers in recent weeks, but not necessarily about his own company," Kapner wrote. "As a director of Acxiom Corp., Dillard had been working on the recently announced $3 billion deal to sell the direct marketing data provider to two private equity groups." By then Dillard's stock price had returned to the mid-30s and was heading downward - to below $20 per share in mid-December.

Best Job of Movin' on Up
John Olaimey, executive vice president and fifth-largest shareholder of Centennial Bank of Little Rock, and his wife, Timothy Ann, bought and sold three houses in 15 months, starting with a $315,000 house in Brodie Creek and ending up with a $2.5 million, 8,692-SF mansion on 5 acres in west Little Rock's Chenal Downs neighborhood. The $2.5 million house was the most expensive sold in Pulaski County in 2006, which has worked to the Olaimeys advantage. The county assessor's office labeled the transaction an "anomaly" and appraised the property for only $1.45 million, saving the Olaimeys more than $10,000 a year in property tax. Still, they are swinging a $2 million mortgage.

Worst Tip
Gov. Mike Beebe's driver, State Police Cpl. Michael Wallace, squeezed his Explorer into a makeshift parking place at a Little Rock hamburger joint and initially ignored a server who announced that a "black SUV" was blocking the entrance to the parking lot and needed to be moved. Eventually, someone else in the governor's party fessed up, and that's when things really heated up. The server asked Wallace to move the SUV, Wallace refused, she said she'd have to have it towed, and he said he'd arrest her if she did. "Threatened to cuff her right there and then," according to a witness who was most disturbed that the governor didn't intervene. Finally, another member of the party cajoled Wallace into moving the SUV. State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wallace and his supervisor would be having a discussion about proper parking techniques.

Best Imitation of Art
No, it wasn't an episode of "Six Feet Under." Dwight Olmstead, president of Olmstead Funeral Home in Batesville, really did shoot his father, Tom Olmstead, at the funeral home one Saturday morning in February. What's more, Tom Olmstead, 76, also shot Dwight Olmstead, 55. The shootout was the nadir of a relationship that had started to sour seven years earlier, when Tom Olmstead was removed as president. Dwight then fired his father in March 2006, and Tom sued his son, who said in a deposition that Tom's "tendency when he drinks to go out and spend huge sums of money" was threatening to bankrupt the 111-year-old business.

Four months after the shootings, Dwight Olmstead was charged with attempted murder and second-degree battery. Earlier this month, Circuit Judge John Dan Kemp granted a change of venue. The younger Olmstead is expected to stand trial, probably in Mountain View, in April. Meanwhile, a court-appointed receiver has fired Dwight from the funeral home as well. Now, back to your regularly scheduled soap opera.

Worst Teachable Moment
Someone leaked e-mail exchanges between members of the board of the Arkansas Young Professionals Network to a couple of Little Rock bloggers. Among other things, the directors discussed "swaying" the election of board members, discouraging political liberals from joining the organization and appointing "attractive" women to positions "in order to keep people from thinking our organization is discriminatory." The only two women on the board of directors resigned in protest, and the remaining eight men responded by doing nothing. "We decided that those who resigned were already enough fallout and that we would put it all behind us and move forward," Randall Dixon, director of AYPN's communications committee, told Arkansas Business.

Best Reality Check
Wally Hall, sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on Thomas McAfee, the "citizen journalist" who obtained phone records of Razorbacks Head Football Coach Houston Nutt, the eventual disclosure of which led to a months-long controversy: "I kind of admire the guy for having the guts to do what he thought was right, knowing he would face immense criticism. I mean, he's had a death threat, for crying out loud. It's football! It's not global warming."

Best Renovation
The Capital Hotel. It took about 16 months longer and millions more dollars than first forecast, but the Capital's owners, Warren Stephens, spared no expense in remaking the 135-year-old building into the luxury hotel, with luxury restaurants, that he envisioned.

Best New Sports Venue
Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, the new home of the Arkansas Travelers, opened for play April 12 and proved to be as popular as its boosters had predicted. The Travelers set a franchise single-season attendance record with 372,475 fans in 2007, nearly 165,000 more than attended their home games in 2006. "Attendance was fabulous," said Bill Valentine, the Travelers chief operating officer and executive vice president.

Worst Zoning
The city of Little Rock initially denied a rezoning request that would have permitted the operation of Go Green Biofuels, one of the first alternative fueling stations in Arkansas. Go Green's owner, Buddy Rawls, appealed to the Board of Directors, which overturned the Planning Commission's decision. Biofuels advocate Mark Johnson said, "We all sit around and complain about OPEC and foreign oil the cost of gas and everything, but it's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Worst News for Bees
Colony Collapse Disorder, a deadly honeybee syndrome that decimates hives, was confirmed in Arkansas. The disorder has struck throughout the United States and killed billions of bees, which are necessary to the pollination of scores of crops, particularly fruits and vegetables.

Best Geography Lesson
Louisiana State University football coach Les Miles kept referring to the Tigers' season-ending opponent as Ar-Kansas - Ar-Kansas this and Ar-Kansas that. Maybe Miles truly was ignorant about how to pronounce our state's name; if so, he was a slow learner. This was the third season Miles has played against the Razorbacks. Maybe Miles learned the error of his ways after unranked Arkansas defeated his No. 1 team 50-48 in triple overtime in Baton Rouge. We fantasized the game-ending handshake included this bit of dialogue from then-Razorbacks Head Coach Houston Nutt: "Good game, Coach. Do you know how to say Arkansas now?"

Best Private Development
The largest public U.S. real estate company, Simon Property Group Inc. of Indianapolis, wanted state and local subsidies for infrastructure improvements to develop the would-be Summit Mall site in west Little Rock. Clary Development Co. of Little Rock said government assistance would not be required, completing improvements to Interstate 430 ramps and Shackleford Road and opening the first space at its $100 million Shackleford Crossings project in 2007.

Best Place to Be a Bankruptcy Attorney
With the northwest Arkansas housing market taking a dive in 2007, bankruptcy attorneys there stayed plenty busy. At the end of the year, at least 16 residential contractors had filed for bankruptcy protection, each listing more than $1 million in debts. One bankruptcy attorney, Theresa L. Pickrus of Fayetteville told Arkansas Business in June: "I have visited with numerous clients related to the contraction industry. We haven't seen the end of it yet."

Worst Housing News
Housing starts in 2007 were off 19 percent, in what was described as the worst housing recession in 16 years.

Worst Nicknames
It was grab-bag effort to come up with a new nickname for the now politically incorrect Arkansas State University Indians. Those deemed among the worst suggestions were: Flying Elvis, Buzz, Wookies, Zeppelin, Vermillion, Underdog, Uncles, Swamp Doctors, Sizzle, Rolling Rouge, Ragin' Cicadas, Miracle Makers, Forest Chiggers, Barking Moonbats and Running Ducks.

Best Power Stare Down
In an effort to strong-arm one last major decision before retirement, outgoing University of Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles challenged longtime KATV-TV, Channel 7 General Manager Dale Nicholson in the naming of a new "Voice of the Arkansas Razorbacks" in June. Broyles steadfastly supported his man from northwest Arkansas - and eventual champion - Chuck Barrett, while Nicholson saw the promotional value in naming his station's main news anchor Scott Inman. Broyles, perhaps for the last time, got his way. But Inman is doing a bang-up job on ARSN's televised basketball broadcasts this season.

Best Reason to Get Up Early
Paul Latture, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority, was checking his e-mail about 5 a.m. one morning in the fall of 2006. One was from "a guy in St. Louis" who wanted information on industrial facilities, and Latture responded immediately. By 10 a.m., Rajesh Chokhani, a location scout for Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren Ltd. of Mumbai, India, was on a flight to Little Rock. That early morning exchange came to fruition on June 30, when Welspun announced that the Port of Little Rock would be the site of a $100 million steel pipe manufacturing plant.

Best Green Initiative
Arkansas' 17 electric cooperatives have used various techniques to reduce energy use by 110 megawatts, and almost half of that savings was achieved by Woodruff Electric Cooperative Corp. of Forrest City, which has persuaded 84 percent of its farm customers to let the cooperative control the timing of irrigation pumps.

Best Sigh of Relief
In 2006, Fort Smith boosters worried that one of the city's leading corporate employers would leave town after rounds of staff cuts and an ownership change. But by 2007, Golden Horizons, the nursing home chain once known as Beverly Enterprises, was talking about expanding its presence.

Best Promise
The El Dorado Promise, of course. Murphy Oil Corp. pledged $50 million to make it financially possible for all graduates of El Dorado High School to attend college.

Worst Fraternity Brother
Let's hope those El Dorado college students don't meet up with someone like Jeff Rand, formerly of Hot Springs. Rand talked college buddies like Phillip Tappan of Little Rock into investing in his oil and gas business, Wave Energy Corp. Then he disappeared. "I had heard that he sold his house and several creditors were looking for him in the Hot Springs area," said Tappan, who had given Rand $80,000.

Worst Warm and Flat Deal
For about a year, negotiations had been going on that would have given Mountain Valley Spring Co. assess to Anheuser-Busch's wholesale distributors. But the deal fell apart in September, and now the Hot Springs bottled water company faces a lawsuit form a former distributor who claims his contract was terminated to make way for the Anheuser-Busch deal. If the deal had gone through, Mountain Valley could have gotten one of the strongest distribution networks in the country.

Best Use of a Geological Formation
Well, aside from the riches being made at the Fayetteville Shale Play, that is. A public-private venture led by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism will place a nearly $15 million golf resort atop scenic Crowley's Ridge in eastern Arkansas. The project includes a 27-hole Andy Dye-designed golf course and a resort that will be run by a private firm, and will be included on the Natural State Golf Trail when it opens this spring.

Worst Doctor
Not only is Patrick Chan of Searcy is facing federal charges for taking kickbacks, but former patients accused him in court filings of performing back surgeries that were unnecessarily. Chan's federal trial is expected to start in January.

Best Offseason
Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter, who was No. 2 on Arkansas Business' list of the state's highest-paid professional athletes this year, will undoubtedly be No. 1 next year after testing the free-agency market this offseason. Hunter, who had spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins and earned $10.75 million last season, signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels in November.

Best Use of Tough Guys
Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee secured not one, but two infamous tough guys in his surprisingly popular road to the White House.

Former pro wrestler "Nature Boy" Ric Flair helped Huck spread the word at a Clemson-South Carolina football game in November, while former TV Texas Ranger Chuck Norris also joined him on various stops along the campaign trail.

The press release announcing Flair's endorsement even included a spectacular quote that ended, "And like I always say, to be the man, you've got to beat the man and Mike Huckabee is the man. Whoooooooo!"

Worst Gamble
With most of the prime areas of the Fayetteville Shale Play in north-central Arkansas already snatched up by the likes of Southwestern Energy Co. of Houston and Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City, Maverick Oil & Gas Inc. of Addison, Texas, gambled $16 million to lease some 125,000 acres in and around an area known as the Mississippi Embayment, about 25 miles east of the play's primary gas reserves. The gamble backfired. "They put enough holes out there to know that they didn't really like what they saw and to know that they didn't want to be spending any more money out there," said Ed Ratchford, a geologist at the Arkansas Geological Commission. Maverick pulled out of north-central Arkansas and is selling off its properties in other states to generate cash.




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