The Whispers Blog
Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
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The Wall Street Journal today takes a look at Bank of the Ozarks Inc. of Little Rock, which it says is filling a loan void in big markets like New York and Houston.
The publicly traded bank, led by George Gleason, opened a loan production office in Manhattan in 2013. It established another office in Houston in 2014 after purchasing Bancshares Inc. for $23 million. It has other loan production sites in Austin, Texas, and Atlanta.
The Journal finds the company providing commercial loans in places where bigger banks have pulled back. It says the company now has $1.9 billion in loans outstanding in New York as of the first quarter, and its portfolio of loans and leases now stands at $9.7 billion.
"A lot of our competitors tend to move as a pack and are heavily driven by headline risk," said George Gleason, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, on a recent call with investors. "So what we have tried to do is ignore the headlines, to a great extent…we are finding tremendous opportunities in Manhattan, Miami, Houston [and] Dallas."
The Journal has more on what could be choppy waters ahead, as analysts weigh warning signs that the rally seen in some of those markets could be coming to end.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge spoke during last night's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, with both criticizing Hillary Clinton more than they praised the GOP nominee, Donald Trump.
"If you liked the last eight years," Hutchinson said, "then Hillary would give you double for your trouble."
Hutchinson criticized Clinton's role as secretary of state, noting the attacks in Benghazi and "instability in Egypt, Syria and Libya, the rise of ISIS, the resurgence of Russia, an emboldened North Korea ..." He also said that, being from Arkansas, he knows "from personal experience that we don't need Hillary Clinton in the White House."
"Donald Trump is the right leader for our time," Hutchinson said.
Asa Hutchinson's Full RNC Speech
Rutledge, in her signature twang, served up even more red meat for delegates.
"Sometimes Hillary Clinton speaks with a New York accent," Rutledge said. "Sometimes an Arkansas accent. But y'all, this is what a real Arkansas woman sounds like. Hillary may not know where she's from, but Arkansans know exactly who I am."
Rutledge, the first woman attorney general in Arkansas, said breaking glass ceilings is important, but not at the expense of the country.
Leslie Rutledge's Full RNC Speech
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
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: 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.
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.
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