Consider 2012 One Wild Ride

by Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Staff  on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 2:49 pm  

It’s that time again, time to close the books on the current year and look forward to the possibilities the new one presents.

Before we bid farewell to 2012 and plunge headlong into 2013, though, as has become the custom in our last issue of December, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal staff has put together a list of what we consider the 10 biggest business stories of the last 12 months.

It’s always a tall task, and this time was no different. Deciding which story to put on top of the list was particularly tough.

In the end, though, we went with the one wrapped in Razorback red. Yes, we’re talking about the roller-coaster ride that actually started with an April motorcycle ride and recently culminated with Bret Bielema agreeing to become the University of Arkansas’ head football coach and, thus, the highest-paid state employee.

It’s more than Bielema’s $3 million-plus salary that makes his hiring a business story, of course. It’s the fact he’ll be the most recognizable figure in an athletic department that drives a lot of economic activity not just in this corner of the state, but from border to border.

Consider, for example, that Arkansas increased its revenue from $64.2 million in 2007-2008 to $99.8 in 2011-2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. That was good enough to move the Razorbacks from 27th nationally to 12th, and much of the credit must go to athletic director Jeff Long.

Other stories on our list include the historic wet-dry vote in Benton County, a topsy-turvy 50th year for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the ongoing health care overhaul known simply as Obamacare.

On a more local level, we continued to be intrigued by Fort Smith’s efforts to reinvent itself, a student apartment boom in Fayetteville that makes us more than a little queasy and a shrewd land grab in Benton County.

And while which stories are the biggest in any year almost always is up for debate, we’re sure you’ll agree there was plenty to talk about around your watercooler in 2012.


1. Razorbacks Rigmarole — From the moment word began to trickle in that former University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino had been involved in a motorcycle wreck until the last seconds before press time, when updates on new coach Bret Bielema’s staff continued to flow fast and furious, Razorbacks fans were teased and/or tortured with every twist in the plot.

And, oh, were there ever twists. From a blonde passenger on said motorcycle to a replacement coach who implored the Razorback Nation to “Smile!” when absolutely no one felt like it to Jon Gruden rumors even the most Cheeto dust-encrusted message-boarder wouldn’t buy, Arkansas fans endured eight months like we’ve never before seen.



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