The Top 10 Arkansas Business Stories of 2012: Making History

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 12:00 am  

The state’s manufacturing sector experienced changes both sour and sweet this year, with heavy job losses and a few replacements.

On the sweet side, Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. of Chicago announced in January that it would resurrect Yarnell’s Ice Cream Co. of Searcy. The venerable ice cream maker closed suddenly in June 2011. The company cited a difficult dessert industry as the main reason for its sudden closure. Yarnell’s assets, including its recipes and its factory in Searcy, were auctioned off.

Schulze & Burch, which already had a factory in Searcy, bought Yarnell’s assets at auction in December 2011 for $1.3 million. By April 2012, the factory was operational, some lost jobs were restored and Yarnell’s ice cream was back in Arkansas grocery store freezers.

On the sour side, the shutdown of Fort Smith’s Whirlpool Corp. plant cost west Arkansas more than 900 jobs. The Benton Harbor, Mich., appliance company announced the plant’s closure in October 2011 — part of a companywide layoff of about 5,000 workers — and the 1.2 million-SF facility finally shut its doors in June 2012.

City officials remained optimistic after the closure. Whirlpool reported in September 2012 that Infinity Asset Solutions Inc. of Canada had made an unspecified offer on the shuttered plant. Unfortunately, in late November, officials revealed that the deal was dead for unclear reasons. At the end of the year, a replacement for the huge plant had still not been found.

However, Walther Arms Inc., a firearm manufacturer, announced in November that it would locate its U.S. headquarters to Fort Smith’s Chafee Crossing. The company will hold a joint facility with Umarex USA, which makes sporting and replica air guns. Both companies said they expected to create 70 to 120 new jobs during the next five years.

In October, Florida-based NextLife Enterprises LLC announced that it would hire 350 workers at the new headquarters for its NextLife Asset Recovery Services subsidiary in Rogers. NextLife makes plastic resins from recycled materials for a wide variety of applications, including consumer and commercial products.

More bad manufacturing news came when Hawker Beechcraft Corp. of Wichita, Kan., announced in November it was closing its Hawker Beechcraft Services facility in Little Rock.

The closure was related to the company’s post-Chapter 11 bankruptcy assessment. About 240 workers among Little Rock, Mesa, Ariz., and San Antonio lost their jobs as a result of the closure. Another 170 were also laid off at the Little Rock Completions Center and the company’s headquarters in Wichita.

The closure occurred after a $1.79 billion Superior Aviation Beijing Co. Ltd. takeover of Hawker was scrapped.



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