2001 Best and Worst

by Arkansas Business staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2001 12:00 am  

Best Economic Development News
Nestlé, the world's largest food processing company, announced that it would build a $165 million, 325,000-SF frozen-food plant in Jonesboro and that Millard Refrigerated Services will build a 200,000-SF refrigerated warehouse to serve the plant. Initial work force at the two plants: 1,000.

Worst Detour While Taking the High Road
In a letter to Alltel President Scott Ford, CenturyTel CEO Glen Post III wrote, "... we have no intention of engaging in your public letter writing campaign." He released the letter publicly.

Best Argument for School Consolidation
The Helena-West Helena School District spent $100,000 on travel for administrators and board members (including a former board member who already had been replaced by the district's voters). Meanwhile, 97 percent of its fourth-grade students performed below grade-level on the state Benchmark Exam.

Worst Excuse for a Newsman
KTHV-TV, Channel 11, news director Mark Raines, who explained his station's decision to devote half of its 10 p.m. newscast once a week to a series of advertiser-sponsored fluff called "THV Survivor" by saying: "I would rather give our viewers something that they are interested in than something that we deem to be important to them."

Best About-Face
First Jim Hendren, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District, went ballistic when the editor of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal confronted him with details of a yearlong extramarital affair. Then came the threats of legal action against NWABJ and its parent company, Arkansas Business Publishing Group. And then, on the day the article appeared, Hendren summoned reporters for The Morning News and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to hear the confession he said he had been contemplating for quite some time.

Worst Prediction
A year ago, Acxiom Corp.'s AbiliTec consumer relationship management product was Arkansas Business' "Newsmaker of the Year," based in part on predictions by stock analysts for Merrill Lynch, CIBC World Market and Stephens Inc. that AbiliTec sales would push the company's stock to the $50-$70 range in 2001. Hindsight reveals that Acxiom's stock already had peaked at $45 by the time the story appeared. A gradual descent in early 2001 bottomed out at barely over $7 by late September, but a rally last week pushed the stock price up to the $18 range.

Best Headline
"Behind the Berlin Wal-Mart," which summed up Arkansas Business' Jan. 22 look at the American retailing icon's struggle on a street named for Karl Marx. Runner-up: "501 Will Shrink to Fit," from a Northwest Arkansas Business Journal article on changes in the state's telephone area code assignments.

Worst Bookkeeping
A state audit revealed that, among other things, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System's general ledger had been understated by $1.1 billion "due to the lack of administrative review, inadequate staff training and absence of written policies and procedures."

Best Fantasy for Business Writers
Let's pretend one of the state's largest, most aggressive, most competitive publicly traded companies makes a unsolicited, multi-billion-dollar offer for a publicly traded company located in a neighboring state. And let's pretend that company also has hundreds of thousands of customers in Arkansas who would be directly affected. Wouldn't that be an awesome business story? If only CenturyTel had shown the least bit of interest in Alltel's offer ...

Worst Hypocrisy
Merrill Lynch & Co. sued two stockbrokers the same day they quit to prevent them from taking clients with them to their new firm — something the stockbrokers said Merrill Lynch encouraged them to do when they were originally hired away from other brokerages.

Best PR
Warren Stephens put a calm, dignified face on the Stephens Group Inc.'s response to protests by animal-welfare activists. But the company also spent some money on a multimedia marketing campaign to explain its decision to invest in a company that tests pharmaceuticals on animals.

Worst PR
On July 19, Alltel Corp. spokesman Andy Moreau repeatedly denied that the company was laying off workers. The next day, a spokesman for the company's Alltel Information Services division confirmed that 57 employees, including 39 in Little Rock, had indeed been laid off the previous day.

Worst Marketing Trend
A number of out-of-state law firms (and some homegrown ones) followed the lead of Florida-based Wilkes & McHugh and started trolling for potential nursing home litigants. One Fayetteville firm introduced a television ad that encourages people who suspect nursing home abuse to report it immediately — not to law enforcement officials or to nursing home regulators at the Department of Human Services but to the Odom & Elliott law firm.

Best Comeback
Bank of the Ozarks bounced back from its costly and embarrassing bad loan to real estate agent Marcy Marlin in 2000 to earn almost as much in the first nine months of 2001 as it did in all of its record-earnings year of 1999.

Worst Disrespect for Elders
Dorman Hartley was 64 when he was fired from his position as manager of the Dillard's store in McCain Mall in North Little Rock. He sued for age discrimination and won a $475,000 judgment against the Little Rock department store chain. Dillard's is appealing the decision, but it could cost the retailer $800,000 after attorney's fees and other costs are added to the judgment.

Best Mystery
How did UARK Federal Credit Union in Fayetteville, with $37 million in assets and net income last year of only $178,629, manage to lose $1.25 million in the first six months of 2001?

Worst Used Car Dealer
James Edward Turner Jr., owner of Turner Motor Co. in Russellville. In addition to lemon-law suits and a couple of hot-check charges, Turner was sued by the Bank of Dardanelle for failing to make payments on a line of credit that he used to stock his car lot. Dozens of the buyers to whom he sold the cars also were sued. Turner agreed to a default judgment of $563,761 in November.

Best Make-Up
After accusing each other of rejecting a contract that would have allowed members of the Conway Regional Physician Hospital Organization to continue as network providers in the Health Advantage HMO and Arkansas' FirstSource PPO, the parties hammered out a deal. The Dec. 12 agreement means 30,000 Conway patients won't have to pay higher out-of-network premiums for using their local doctors and hospital come Jan. 1.

Worst Handling of a Vacation Request
It was revealed in January that two staff attorneys in the Arkansas Attorney General's Office had asked to use personal vacation time in March 1999 to tell legislators that the Check Cashers Act under consideration at the time was unconstitutional, but they were strongly discouraged from doing so. Their boss, Attorney General Mark Pryor, had been elected the previous November with financial backing from the check-casher lobby, and he took no position on the bill. A key provision of the act that attempted to exempt payday advance fees from the state usury limit was later found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, just as the staff attorneys predicted it would be.

Worst Résumé Padding
George Hardy was not the U.S. Navy SEAL that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. thought it was hiring to provide security for corporate executives. In fact, he didn't even have a concealed handgun permit — at least not in Arkansas. Hardy was exposed in February by a group called Phony SEAL Busters, which is made up of retired Navy veterans.

Best Show of Courage
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in a move guaranteed to result in angry phone calls and hateful letters to the editor, cut costs during an economic slump by bravely eliminating a full page of comic strips and mind games.

Best Politically Correct Excuse for a Bank Failure
Damian Sinclair said federal bank regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency shut down his Sinclair National Bank in Gravette because he was making too many loans to black and Hispanic borrowers. The OCC's office had a more pedestrian explanation for its action: Sinclair National was "critically undercapitalized" with tangible equity capital equal to less than 2 percent of its $28 million in assets.

Worst Case of Naivete
Freelance journalist Suzy Parker of Little Rock, who was shocked — shocked! — to learn that AETN's staid "Arkansas Week" current events show was not amused by her foray into pornography. Parker may have the last laugh, though. Film rights have been sold for the explicit, first-person account of her experiment with aphrodisiac Nexcite (formerly known as Niagara) that she wrote for the Nerve.com adult Web site. And, in the time-honored tradition of freelancers everywhere, Parker reworked the theme and sold it to Penthouse magazine.

Best Hay-Making
Not long after the dust had settled in New York City, Acxiom Corp. announced that it was developing a security-enhancing information verification system to help airlines quickly validate personal information supplied by passengers. Acxiom also issued a press release saying it had data on 11 of the 19 publicly identified hijackers. Though not specified, this information was implied to be valuable enough to warn airlines about possible danger. Then Acxiom recruited some military muscle to augment its tech warriors by appointing retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark of Little Rock, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, to its board of directors. The implicit message from all of this: Acxiom has the answer to avoid a national tragedy like the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Worst Business Partner
Excite At Home, the high-speed Internet provider for Comcast Cable, Cox Communications and AT&T, kept finding new ways to disappoint in 2001. Investors were the first the get the shaft, as the ubiquitous "advertising slump" drove At Home stock into the mud. Even FOB Mack McLarty, who considered an At Home bailout, stayed away. Soon At Home's cable partners were sweating bullets, including Comcast, which had just spent $50 million to roll out At Home service in central Arkansas. As Comcast and others squirmed to get out of their contracts with At Home, the broadband supplier threatened to stop service to cable companies, potentially leaving thousands of cable modem customers with an Internet connection to nowhere. In the end, At Home declared bankruptcy and pledged to continue service. Comcast informed subscribers it would soon launch its own high-speed service.

Best Collectible
Collect 'em, race 'em, trade 'em! The Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission distributed thousands of free baseball cards depicting former President Bill Clinton, complete with information about his ties to the city on the back. On the cards, Clinton smiles, sports an Orioles jacket, plays golf and palms a basketball (not all at once). Now hard to come by, the limited edition Topps wannabes are still easier to grasp than Clinton's legacy.

Worst Morning Show
Hands down: KABZ-FM, 103.7's now (thankfully) canceled "Bruce and Melissa's Morning Buzz." After signing on with a hoax about the death of nationally syndicated talk guru Don Imus, whose popular show formerly held the slot, the infinitely unfunny Bruce and Melissa went straight downhill. Almost single-handedly redefining how bad radio could be, the duo's bathroom jokes, sexual topics and inane comments bored listeners, angered some advertisers and even prompted a brief suspension. What was shocking about these jocks was that they lasted as long as they did. Debuting in December 2000, they were off the air by summer.

Best TV Battle
KTHV-TV, Channel 11, vs. KATV-TV, Channel 7. Gannett Co.-owned KTHV had been building steam for years when it finally trumped longtime No. 1 KATV at 10 p.m. during the February ratings period. Beaten by a scant one household share point, KATV nevertheless circled the wagons: It canned Matt Mosler and Julie Mayberry and retooled its "Daybreak" morning show, finally hired a promotions director, tweaked its newscast and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. KATV still faced challenges, as audience share slipped and news director Bob Steel resigned for ad agency work, leaving longtime assistant news director Randy Dixon in charge. Will KATV hang on as No. 1? Will KTHV challenge KATV's No. 1 slot at 5 and 6 p.m.? Will KARK-TV, Channel 4, ever step up? The battle will continue in 2002.

Worst Ranking
Arkansas was again ranked dead last in its readiness to take advantage of the "new economy," according to the Milken Institute.

Worst Ranking (Runner Up)
Arkansas ranked a respectable 25th in the Small Business Survival Committee's ranking of states according to their policy climates for small business and entrepreneurship. Respectable, that is, until you look closer at the items used to compile the rankings. For instance, Arkansas was fifth best in property taxes but 43rd in sales tax. Naturally, Arkansas then reduced its property taxes and raised its sales tax.

Best Speech
Gov. Huckabee's address to Arkansans after he arrived back in the state on September 11.

Worst Joke
Gov. Mike Huckabee responded to sincere suggestions that the state might need to revamp its tax system after sluggish sales tax collections forced a $142 million cut in the budget by setting up the "Tax Me More Fund."

Worst Memory
Gov. Huckabee told reporters in June that he had to sign a bed tax bill to fund improved nursing home Medicaid reimbursements because the House of Representatives wouldn't support the alternative, a tax on tobacco products. The governor apparently forgot that both houses of the General Assembly approved both funding options and that he chose to veto the tobacco tax and sign the bed tax.

Worst Luck
Its first attempts at real estate investing — the Union Bank Building and the Atkins Building in downtown Little Rock — were so disappointing that the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System took a four-year hiatus. Then PERS bought Chenal Commons, a late-model, fully occupied strip shopping center in west Little Rock. Wouldn't you know it? Within a year, Office Max and Zany Brainy ducked out, leaving the property 55 percent occupied at a time when new retail tenants are difficult to get.

Best Attitude Adjustment
Americans, including Arkansans who used to think the location of Razorbacks football games was a big, important news story.



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