Arkansas Capital Corp.: 55 Years and Still Growing

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 12:00 am  

In 1989, C. Sam Walls took on the job of revitalizing the entity known as Arkansas Capital Corp. of Little Rock.

During that time, he’s overseen nearly a half-billion dollars worth of loans, with a portfolio that contains government-guaranteed loans, and grown the organization so that Arkansas Capital Corp. is just one of more than a half-dozen entities “empowering entrepreneurs” under the umbrella of Arkansas Capital Corp. Group.

The group is continuing to grow as Walls, who turned 65 in July, is eyeing retirement. He declined to say when he might step down or who might replace him.

Last week, ACCG was wrapping up the creation of its eighth entity, Pine State Capital, which will be a conduit for a federal program that will direct foreign investment in poor areas of Arkansas.

“That’s the reason we exist — to build the state of Arkansas,” Walls said. “And all those little pieces that we’ve added have the same mission.”

Economic developers say ACCG’s myriad services are vital to entrepreneurs and businesses that need money.

“Oftentimes, they are the bridge or the catalyst that makes a project work,” said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

ACCG works mostly as a local channel for federal government programs — such as U.S. Small Business Administration lending or tax credits — designed to encourage entrepreneurs. ACCG’s divisions are a mix of for-profit and nonprofit entities that range in services from the nonprofit Connect Arkansas Inc., which is providing broadband access to Arkansans, to Diamond State Ventures Inc., a for-profit venture capital fund.

But ACCG’s flagship division is Arkansas Capital Corp., a private, nonprofit company that borrows money from the state of Arkansas to lend to startups and expanding companies that don’t meet traditional bank funding requirements. Most of those loans from ACC are guaranteed by the SBA and secured by assets from the borrower. ACC also pays the state of Arkansas interest on the money it borrows.

ACCG usually finds itself near the top of Arkansas Business’ list of largest SBA lenders. In 2010, ACCG was No. 2 on the list with 39 loans totaling $21.9 million in value, but a year later, it had slipped to No. 3 with 32 loans for $17.2 million. Those loans were made through ACCG entities Arkansas Capital Corp. and Six Bridges Capital Corp.

Walls said it was difficult to track down job creation numbers for the whole company, but that Arkansas Capital Corp. added 5,788 jobs to Arkansas firms between 2005 and June 30, 2012.

ACC officials, however, don’t go back to the borrowers and check to see if the jobs were created after the money was released. “Times change, circumstances change, and people … they hire and fire people all the time,” Walls said. “So to go back a year later … you can’t really nail it down exactly” how many jobs were created.



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