The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
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Reports of More Layoffs at Acxiom Corp.

Arkansas Business is hearing word of another round of layoffs at Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock, the data services provider that announced in November that it would cut its annual cost base by up $30 million.

As of last year, Acxiom (Nasdaq: ACXM) employed about 2,000 people in Arkansas and more than 6,000 worldwide. But the company has held at least two rounds of layoffs since announcing plans to cut its cost base in a Nov. 6 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Acxiom won't say how many employees have been affected by its cost-cutting efforts. Ines Gutzmer, Acxiom's director of corporate communications, sent our reporter Luke Jones this statement when we asked about today's reports of layoffs:

As communicated in our last earnings call, Acxiom has embarked upon an initiative to increase efficiencies and further improve performance. This is a company-wide, multi-phased approach, and our goal is for all associated actions to be completed by end of this fiscal year. We are on track to meet this timeline, and we hope to provide an update as soon as the process is completed.

Heard anything? Drop us a line.

Explaining the cost-cutting measure to analysts in November, Acxiom said it was seeking to simplify the company's management structure, centralize duplicative efforts and standardize workflows.

Acxiom said the move will occur in phases and that it is "unable to make a determination of the estimated amount or range of future costs and cash expenditures." It expected the actions to take place over a 6- to 12-month period.

"The one thing that we are doing however is that we're being very methodical and very long-term in our approach," Acxiom CFO Warren Jenson said at the time. "There's no slash and burn here. So what we’re doing is, we're carefully examining layer-by-layer our management structure to figure out how we can better organize ourselves, and we're involving our [employees] in that effort too ..."

Wal-Mart Eyes $1B Expansion in Mexico, Central America

A Wal-Mart store in Mexico.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, looking to mitigate a streak of same-store sales declines in the U.S., is once again looking to its international unit for growth.

Bloomberg reports today that Wal-Mart has set its sights on its Mexico and Central American unit, planning to spend $1.1 billion to open stores and improve e-commerce in the region. On the drawing board are 3.7 million square feet of new space, with Mexican floor space growing by 5 percent and Central American stores expanding by 7.6 percent.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is looking to Latin America to help offset declines at home. Sales at Wal-Mart U.S. stores open at least 12 months, excluding fuel, fell 0.4 percent last quarter.

Wal-Mart’s Mexican business, known as Walmex, will spend 3.5 billion pesos of its expansion budget on remodeling and maintenance. It will devote 1.2 billion pesos to logistics and 1.9 billion to e-commerce and other technology.

The announcement comes just a few days after Wal-Mart reported fourth-quarter earnings showing a 21 percent decline in profit. This, in a quarter that included the all-important holiday shopping season.

Wal-Mart has increasingly relied on its international units as growth has slowed in the United States. Wal-Mart's CEO, Doug McMillon, had been the leader of the retailer's international operations until he was tapped to lead the entire company last fall.

Video: Inside Custom Aircraft Cabinets of Sherwood

You won't want to miss Arkansas Business Managing Editor Jan Cottingham's story this week on Custom Aircraft Cabinets of Sherwood. The story, part of our special issue on the state's manufacturing industry, takes a look inside the 25-year-old company, which employs 218 and reports annual revenue of $20 million to $30 million.

Now operating inside the 146,000-SF former National Home Centers building, the company makes high-end cabinetry and upholstery products for the private, corporate and head-of-state aircraft market throughout the world. Founders Mike Gueringer and Paul Reesnes hope to double their workforce as they grow their business.

In addition to reading Jan's story, you can check out the video above by Arkansas Business news partner THV 11 News. Reporter Ashley Blackstone goes inside the CAC manufacturing facility for a glimpse at how Gueringer and Reesnes are making their dream come alive.

The Best of #ARLEGValentines

Ah yes. It's that time of year again. Love -- and legislation -- is in the air. It's a heady mix sure to make you swoon. Without further ado, the best of this year's #ARLEGValentines.

Plus: How time flies when you're in love! See last year's.

UCA Names Leader to Oversee Donaghey Corridor

TJ Johnston, executive vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the Conway Development Corporation, is taking a new job at the University of Central Arkansas that will oversee UCA's Donaghey Corridor project, according to The Log Cabin Democrat.

University President Tom Courtway unveiled plans in November for the mixed-use development, which would feature retail and student housing, along Donaghey Avenue:

UCA is undertaking the planning and design process to create a mixed-use development along Donaghey Avenue between South Boulevard and Bruce Street. It is envisioned that the block will include ground-level retail and commercial ventures, and innovative student housing on upper floors. Among the aesthetic improvements would be medians and landscaping, in addition to traffic flow enhancements to Donaghey Avenue. Conversations with the City of Conway have begun.

UCA says Johnston will oversee all phases of planning and development of the project.

Preliminary steps toward architectural and engineering work are set to begin this summer, with a groundbreaking taking place in the fall. UCA is aiming for occupancy of the new center to begin in fall 2016.