The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
Send us tips.

Video: Tracy Morgan Says He'll Meet with Doug McMillon This Week

Tracy Morgan (file)

Comedian Tracy Morgan, who was injured in an auto accident involving a Wal-Mart truck that killed fellow comedian James McNair last June, gave his first interview since the wreck this morning on NBC's "Today Show."

You can see the complete interview embedded at the end of this post.

This was the wreck that involved a Wal-Mart truck driven by Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia. Wal-Mart reached a settlement with the family of McNair and, last week, Morgan. TMZ, citing court records, says Wal-Mart paid McNair's family $10 million; details about the retailer's deal with Morgan have not been disclosed.

In his "Today Show" interview, Morgan and his attorney said they will meet this week with Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon so McMillon can personally apologize to Morgan. Morgan said Wal-Mart "stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way," taking "full responsibility" for the accident. 

Morgan was in a coma for about two weeks after the crash and says he still gets nosebleeds and headaches. He said there are good days and bad days, and that he often forgets things. While he says he's not 100 percent yet, he wants to return to comedy.

Roper, meanwhile, faces criminal charges including death by auto in New Jersey court. He has pleaded not guilty. He was not a defendant in Morgan's federal lawsuit.

John James Wants to Turn Old Post Office into Startup Hub

If all goes to plan, the Old Post Office building on the Fayetteville square will become home to a co-working space and startup hub.

John James, the Acumen Brands founder who now focuses most of his time on launching Hayseed Ventures in Fayetteville, has a vision for the historic Old Post Office building that anchors the Fayetteville downtown square.

He sees the OPO basement as a startup hub and co-working space, and Hayseed, which now occupies part of the building, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to gauge community interest in such a role. 

The campaign aims to raise $25,000 by June 19, and so far 13 backers have pledged $930.

James and Hayseed will match what's raised through Kickstarter "a minimum of three times over and cover the annual operating budget of the facility," said Brandi Mikula, a member of the Arkansas Fellowship program who is handling community outreach for Hayseed.

"Our goal is to create a startup hub in downtown Fayetteville, where entrepreneurs have all the resources they need to thrive," Mikula said. "In addition to functioning as a co-working space, the basement will host educational events such as startup schools, a free lecture series, pitch events, etc."

Mikula pointed us to a recent Kauffman Foundation report that found startup density to be an integral part of a healthy startup ecosystem.

"Through this space and several other upcoming projects around the Fayetteville square, we are seeking to artificially increase the density of local entrepreneurs collaborating with like-minded professionals," Mikula said.

Since the close of the Iceberg co-working space in downtown Fayetteville in 2014, many Fayetteville entrepreneurial activities have been hosted by Startup Junkie Consulting at Centerspace above the UA's Pryor Center on the square.

Hayseed wants to add to the square's entrepreneurial vibe.

"The space hasn’t been truly renovated for over 30 years and most of the building has been neglected," Mikula said. "To make the OPO a truly great place for entrepreneurs to thrive, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but the potential of this space is very exciting."

Check it all out, and if the spirit moves you, make a pledge, right here. And Mikula promises more details on Hayseed are forthcoming as well...

Arkansas Business Wrote About Police Investigating Richard Johns in 2012

Dr. Richard Johns

You might caught the story yesterday (and this morning) about Little Rock internist Dr. Richard Johns, who's been arrested and charged with more than 180 counts of fraudulent practices — namely, writing fraudulent prescriptions.

The Lonoke County Sheriff's Office, which handled the arrest, said it began its investigation into Johns in November after an overdose death in Cabot. Investigators traced the death back to one of the fraudulent prescriptions allegedly written by Johns.

Arkansas Business readers have had reason to be wary of Johns.

In 2012, Editor Gwen Moritz wrote that Johns was under investigation by Little Rock Police in connection to sexual misconduct allegations by at least two women. There was an element of fraudulent prescriptions to those accusations:

In a circuitous way, the dropping of criminal charges against the former office manager at Johns' practice - Practice Management Services Inc., known as the Physicians Group in the Doctor's Building on South University Avenue - has reopened the legal path for the earliest of the complaints, a long-simmering sexual discrimination claim that set a new legal precedent.

In that case, originally filed in federal court in Little Rock in 2009, a registered nurse named Rhonda Calaway alleges that Johns filed a false claim against her - that she wrote prescriptions for herself under Johns' name - with the Arkansas State Board of Nursing after she complained of repeated inappropriate comments during the six months she worked for him in 2007.

At the time, the Arkansas State Medical Board hadn't disciplined Johns, although it had investigated sexual misconduct claims brought by at least one patient. The Medical Board sent the patient a letter, dated Oct. 19, 2010, saying that it found "no evidence of a violation of the Arkansas Medical Practices Act" and took no disciplinary action. 

That same patient then took her complaint to the LRPD, which took her statement that same month and began investigating what the police report termed "sexual assault."

As for Calaway, Moritz reported that she accepted a consent order by the Board of Nursing that caused her RN license to be on probation for a year.

She completed her probationary period, and her attorney told Moritz that Calaway "still absolutely denies having done anything wrong. She has never wavered in her position" that Johns authorized the prescriptions she filled.

Moritz's reporting turned up another nurse who worked for Johns and accused him of wrongdoing.

In 2003, Tamara Fusilier Baker accused Johns of violating the privacy restrictions of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, by sharing her medical records with her ex-husband for use in a custody dispute:

After Baker, whose last name was then Fusilier, made her complaint to the Arkansas State Medical Board, Johns reported Baker to the Board of Nursing. 

Baker's license was on professional probation for the next two years, and she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2004.

At the time, an investigation by the state Medical Board found no evidence of a violation by Dr. Johns.

PTI to Provide Projection Mapping on Old State House for LR Film Festival

Power Technology Inc. on Saturday night will help transform the Old State House into something more like Cinderella's castle at Disney World.

If you've ever been to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Orlando, chances are you've the seen the amazing light show projected against the facade of Cinderella's castle that brings the day's activities to a close.

It's something to see.

That something will be on display in Little Rock Saturday night. The projection mapping used to illuminate and transform the castle will be a part of the Little Rock Film Festival, thanks to Power Technology Inc. of Alexander, an Innovate Arkansas firm.

The ninth-annual festival is underway in Little Rock, and laser manufacturer PTI will help the Old State House "morph into a canvas for visual expression" at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of its closing gala. 

(Here's more on the festival from Little Rock Soirée.)

PTI's Walter Burgess explains projection mapping:

Formally, projection mapping is the display of an image on an arbitrary surface. However, it is most often used to project images, animation and seemingly interactive graphics onto an architectural surface.

PTI will be projecting animations developed by Jason Hayne of Balanced Lighting Systems. PTI also is developing a seperate laser projection system called Illumina that it recently marketed at industry trade shows such as CinemaCon in Las Vegas. 

"Projection mapping and laser illuminated projection mapping are amazing technologies," Burgess said. "I’ve seen projectors used to show ledges of buildings fall off or dragons chase anime characters. It is complex in that it uses the architecture of the building as a part of the story and the projection has to be very precise to pull it off well. But, when it is pulled off right, it is guaranteed to make you smile."

Imagine an animated snake slithering up one of the columns of the Old State House, he suggested. Pretty cool. Now, if the rain can just hold off this weekend...

[Editor's note: The rain did not hold off over the weekend, and the closing gala was cancelled. But PTI still plans to display its projection mapping at some point in the near future. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, coverage of the festival from Soiree here.]

Report: US Truckers Generated Record $700B in Revenue Last Year

The Wall Street Journal reports today on this new report from the American Trucking Associations that says the U.S. trucking industry generated a record $700.4 billion in revenue.

The Journal report also says that last year growth actually marked a slowdown, despite the record:

Trucking revenue rose 2.6% last year, according to the American Trucking Associations’ “American Trucking Trends” report released Monday. 

The growth marked a slowdown from the previous year, when trucking revenue expanded 6.2%, but marked the first time industry-wide revenue exceeded $700 billion.

"Last year, we saw freight volumes grow significantly," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a news release. "Increases in freight, combined with continued tight capacity helped drive revenues and coupled with lower fuel prices, we saw motor carriers go on a buying spree for new trucks as they replaced older equipment."

Among those companies replacing older equipment: USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren, which began receiving 150 new tractors at the end of 2013, following previous orders of 250 new tractors and 400 new trailers earlier in the year.

The ATA noted some other trends from 2014:

  • The $700.4 billion in revenue accounted for 80.3 percent of all freight transportation spending.
  • Trucking employed more than 7 million people, including 3.4 million drivers.
  • Combination trucks logged 168.4 billion miles in 2013, or an average of 69,000 per truck.