The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
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Video: Watch Tom Cotton's Republican National Convention Speech

Tom Cotton

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., spoke during the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Cotton, 39, a former U.S. House member and combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke during a night whose theme was "Make America Safe Again."

"Our warriors and their families don't ask for much. But there are a few things we'd like: A commander in chief who speaks of winning wars and not merely ending wars, calls the enemy by its name, and draws red lines carefully, but enforces them ruthlessly," Cotton said. "And politicians who treat our common defense as the chief responsibility of our federal government, not just another government program.

"This isn't much to ask for, but eight years without it is more than enough."

Tom Cotton's Full RNC Speech

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Hutchinson Expects Results From European Trip, Cites Business Leads

Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston officially opened an office in Berlin on Tuesday, as the pair begins to wrap up a trade mission aiming at shoring up existing business relationships and creating new ones.

Hutchinson and Preston spoke to reporters Tuesday morning via conference call. The governor said he was impressed by the state's opportunities in the aerospace and defense industries there, that they've identified more than a dozen "significant" business leads so far and that he expects results from the trip.

Hutchinson also fielded questions about resuming executions in Arkansas — he aims to set executions dates before January — and next week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he expects to speak in primetime Tuesday.

You can listen to the governor's complete remarks here. Below, more highlights from the news conference:

The governor and Preston have met with more than 20 companies on the trip so far.

Hutchinson said there is a recognition by prospects of Arkansas' existing position in aerospace and defense.

Although he had nothing to announce today, the governor said he "absolutely" expects results from the trip. "There's well over a dozen significant leads that we have to follow up on, and we're delighted with the results of this trip thus far," he said.

Hutchinson said there is interest by the U.K., Germany and other European countries of expanding direct investment in the U.S. He said Arkansas has to have a seat at the table in Europe to compete with other states for that investment.

Hutchinson said the uncertainty created by Brexit — the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union — might be an advantage for the state, as European countries look "to a greater extent at the U.S. market as a safe area for investment. So from a U.S. perspective, I consider our trade will continue in a very robust fashion, and our opportunities are not limited by that Brexit vote."

Adding to his Brexit comments, the governor said the state will likely be in a stronger negotiating position with the European Commission. "…[W]henever you're looking at the barriers that they have placed on Arkansas poultry, meat products, as well as rice and other commodities, I think their tough negotiating position has been reduced and hampered as a result of the Brexit vote," Hutchinson said. "And so in that sense, I'm optimistic in the long term that we'll have a better market over here for our agricultural products …"

Hutchinson said that at most meetings, companies bring up Arkansas computer coding programs. The companies said the ability to have workers who possess those coding skills are among the keys to expansion opportunities.

Preston said AEDC is excited to get Cornelius Schnitzler, who will lead the Berlin office, on board. Schnitzler will be "working to generate these leads and working with these companies to grow the existing presence German companies have in Arkansas but then also to hopefully generate some new business and some new foreign direct investment …" 

Preston said AEDC considered sending an Arkansan to Germany, but felt it would take took long for that person to create the business relationships there. AEDC evaluated its existing contacts there and ultimately hired Schnitzler based his business background and business connections in the region, according to Hutchinson.

While some regional economic development consultants might work for several states, Schnitzler works only for Arkansas, Preston said.

Preston said he would like bring Schnitzler to Arkansas at some point to meet with companies here that aim to increase their exports to Europe.

"We want to maintain and expand on our existing business relationship with German companies," the governor said. "And so this is about making sure that our good companies in Arkansas that are employing Arkansans aren't taken by another state, that they're happy Arkansas, that they have a good home here, as well as trying to recruit additional companies."

Representatives from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport also attended the Farnborough International Airshow in London, Preston said.

Video of the News Conference

Update: John Tyson, 4 Others Urge UA Board to Slow Down Stadium Expansion

A rendering of the planned expansion and north end zone redesign at Razorback Stadium.

Update: June 16, 2016 — The UA board of trustees approved the expansion project by a vote of 8-2. David Pryor and Cliff Gibson voted against. More here.

Original post:

Tyson Foods Inc. Chairman John Tyson is among five former University of Arkansas System board members questioning a $160 million proposal to expand Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium

The UA board begins a two-day meeting today at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain. A vote to endorse the expansion plan is on the Thursday agenda (PDF).

In an op-ed published today by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Tyson and the other former board members said board should slow down expansion plans:

With the financial support from the state already under serious pressure, and consideration being given to completely changing how state support is calculated (to focus on “outcomes” instead of simple enrollment numbers), and with tuition continuing to skyrocket making it more and more difficult for the average student to be able to afford higher education, we simply believe this is a terrible time for the U. of A. Fayetteville to be making a commitment to this kind of debt, especially for this purpose. We encourage the Board of Trustees to slow this project down and continue to review its priorities.

The op-ed is signed by Tyson; Kaneaster Hodges of Newport; Frances Cranford of Little Rock; Diane Nolan Alderson of El Dorado; and Jack L. Williams of Texarkana and Little Rock.

The UA board in January approval preliminary work on the project, which will redesign the north end zone and add 3,000 seats, including club seats and lodge boxes, and bring total stadium capacity to 75,000. At the time, trustee David Pryor, a former U.S. senator and Arkansas governor, abstained from voting, telling the board that he needed more information about the plans, including insight on the costs and benefits of the expansion. In April, the board approved CDI Contractors LLC of Little Rock as the project's general contractor.

Poll: Tell us what you think. Should UA trustees move ahead with the stadium expansion?

Elsewhere in the op-ed, the former trustees questioned the fundamental need to add stadium capacity:

The last time Razorback Stadium was renovated and expanded, approximately 20 years ago, we spent roughly $100 million to update the facilities and add about 20,000 seats. That worked out to be about $5,000 per additional seat. Since that time, our best guess is that we have had maybe 10 or 12 games "sell out," but only two or three truly "full houses" in those 20 years. Now we are planning to spend another $160 million (that will in all likelihood end up being $200 million-plus), and are only adding approximately 3,000 seats. Since we have very seldom, in 20 years, filled the stadium up, we really don't need many, if any, additional seats but we're still going to spend another $160 million to $200 million on the facility? This simply defies all logic.

Alice Walton Drops Rocking W Ranch Price to $16.5M

Alice Walton's Rocking W Ranch includes more than 1,435 acres, several residences, and a full horse-training facility.

Alice Walton has dropped the price of her her 1,400-acre Texas ranch by $3.25 million after putting it up for sale in September 2015.

The Rocking W Ranch is located along the Brazos River on the Parker/Palo Pinto County line in Millsap, Texas. In September, the property was listed for $19.75 million by WilliamsTrew Real Estate of Fort Worth and Coalson Real Estate of Weatherford, Texas.

It's now only $16.5 million, a whopping 16.5 percent price drop. 

In September, Arkansas Business reported that she was selling the ranch in order to focus on Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, which she founded in 2011.

The Wal-Mart heiress also recently sold out of the cutting horse business. Walton had six championship horses since 2000.

In a news release announcing the ranch sale, Walton said it's time for her to turn her attention to other matters.

"I have loved this business and this way of life," she said. "But it is time for me to pull back and focus on other things that really matter to me."