E. Ritter of Marked Tree Evolves Through 5 Generations of Agriculture, Communications

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

A scale model of Ernest Ritter’s original general store stands in the E. Ritter & Co. headquarters in Marked Tree (Poinsett County). (Photo by Luke Jones)

The other division, E. Ritter Communications, mainly manages three small telephone companies: one in Marked Tree, one south of Harrison and one in Millington, Tenn.

It also has a cable television service and is a competitive local exchange carrier in Jonesboro.

Both divisions are wrapped up in ever-changing industries.

For example, the ag division has had to make many divestitures through the years. Last year, the company sold its crop services sector.

“Over time, we’ve been shrinking our portfolio of companies on the ag side to really be able to focus on what was always our prime asset, our farmland and farm operations,” Hatzenbuehler said.

But the increasing value of farmland has created other challenges.

“It’s difficult to acquire farmland, as well as logistics, being able to efficiently move our crops into higher-value markets,” Dickinson said.

Hatzenbuehler said the globalization and consolidation of agriculture has moved competition to an international scale, and E. Ritter must find ways to sell into those markets.

The communications industry is perhaps even more tumultuous.

Part of E. Ritter’s success in the telephone business was because from the 1930s up until about 2000, the government provided substantial subsidies to rural phone companies.

“Beginning in 1996 when the Telecom Act was passed that ushered in deregulation, it also increased competition,” Hatzenbuehler said. “Starting then, the amount of support that rural companies have been getting from the state and federal government has been declining, and declining rapidly.”

E. Ritter saw this coming, Hatzenbuehler said, and started finding other ways to grow its communications side that didn’t depend on subsidies, like cable TV and Internet.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.

Latest Arkansas Business Poll

Do you approve of the president taking executive action on immigration?