Truman Arnold Pole Vaults to Top of Largest Private Companies List

This is embarrassing: The largest privately owned company on Arkansas Business' annual list isn't even in Arkansas.

That's the hazard of treating stateline-straddling Texarkana as a single city and claiming all of it as an integral part of the Arkansas economy.

No. 1 on the list of the 75 largest private companies is Truman Arnold Cos., which zoomed up from from No. 8 last year with a 130 percent increase in revenue, the criterion used for this ranking.

With sales of $1.3 billion in 2000, the wholesaler of refined petroleum products and provider of aviation services is the only private company in Arkansas whose revenue is known or estimated to be in the 10-digit stratosphere. Stephens Group Inc. of Little Rock, the perennial No. 1, dropped to second place on the list, with revenue still estimated at $900 million.

Stephens has consistently declined to confirm any revenue figures, as is the privilege of private companies. More than 60 of the companies on the list did provide gross revenue information. It is completely self-reported and no independent verification is available for most private industries.

Truman Arnold Cos., namesake of the man who founded it in 1964 and still runs it, benefited from the dramatic increase in the price of petroleum fuels. The wholesale price of gasoline went from 45 cents a gallon in 1999 to 75 and 80 cents in 2000, chief financial officer Steve McMillen said.

But TAC also sold about 30 percent more fuel, further improving its revenue picture.

"It's not necessarily demand," McMillen explained. "It's just our sales. We have broadened our customer base and we're selling to more customers in more markets."

TAC markets branded and unbranded fuels in 47 states and five Canadian provinces.

"We've probably added 10 or 12 states to our sales market in the past 12 to 18 months," McMillen said.

That kind of expansion is obviously good for revenue figures, but what about the bottom line?

"It's working. We're doing pretty well," McMillen said.

The same market factors were at work for Coulson Oil Group in North Little Rock, which recorded a 51 percent increase in revenue, from $165 million in 1999 to $249 million in 2000.

Another member of the petroleum industry, Cross Oil Refining & Marketing Inc. of Smackover, returned to the list this year after several year's hiatus. Cross Oil is ranked No. 67, with revenue in 2000 of $81.2 million. The company is an oil refiner and manufacturer of products used in other industries.

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The highest debut on this year's list is Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. at No. 33 with $159 million in revenue during 2000. AECI is corporately separate from but has the same top manager (Gary Voigt) as Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., the No. 12 company on the list with $427.1 million in revenue.

AECI is owned by Arkansas' 17 electric distribution cooperatives. But instead of generating or distributing electricity, it manufactures and sells electrical equipment.

AECI should have been on last year's list, where it would have ranked 35th. It would have pushed last year's No. 75, Arkansas Steel Associates of Newport, off the list. And that would have improved the list even more, since Arkansas Steel Associates is — and was then — a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corp. of Tokyo.

Another company that was inadvertently omitted from last year's list is Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock, which ranks No. 75 this year with $60.2 million in revenue. Last year's revenue of $66 million would have been good enough to put it at No. 74.

Making its first — and only — appearance on the list is Communications Management Specialists of Little Rock. The telecommunications networker was founded in 1995 by Phil Whisenhunt, and it enjoyed phenomenal growth last year. Revenue increased more than 200 percent, from $21.1 million in 1999 to $60.2 million in 2000, and that was enough to place 74th on this year's list.

Regardless of its continued growth, CMS will not appear on future lists of Arkansas' largest private companies because it was sold in February to Scientel LLC of Downers Grove, Ill., a subsidiary of Scientech Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Carlton-Bates Co. of Little Rock enjoyed a 68 percent increase in revenue from 1999 to 2000, and moved from 31st to 20th in only its third appearance on the list.

Falling Fortunes

Thirteen of the 75 companies on the list confirmed that revenue during 2000 was lower than in 1999, and the same may be true of some companies that didn't disclose revenue information.

No company on the list experienced a greater drop in revenue last year than Carco Transportation Systems Inc. of Fort Smith, which sold its CCC Express subsidiary to USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren in November 1999. That division had generated some $60 million in annual revenue, leaving Carco with $65.9 million in sales in 2000 and moving it from No. 41 to No. 73 on the list.

Riceland Foods Inc. and Producers Rice Mill Inc., both of Stuttgart, also experienced falling revenue last year. Riceland dropped from No. 2 on the list to No. 5, with a 5.5 percent decrease in sales. Sales at Producers Rice Mill were off by 8.2 percent, and its ranking dropped from 20th to 25th.

Trans-States Lines Inc. of Fort Smith, which was ranked No. 71 last year and No. 73 the year before, has apparently ceased to exist. Most of its assets have been sold.

Statewide Industry

No single type of industry dominates the list of Arkansas' largest private companies, although seven are hospitals and seven more are related to the poultry industry.

Fully a third of the top 75 companies are in Little Rock, with six more located elsewhere in Pulaski County (four in North Little Rock and two in Jacksonville). Only nine other cities (including the "wrong side" of Texarkana) boast more than one of the largest enterprises.

But the size of the town has little to do with the size of the company. Siloam Springs, with fewer than 10,000 residents, is home to both Simmons Foods Inc., No. 11 with revenue estimated at $430 million and 4,400 employees, and Allen Canning Co., No. 19 with $300 million in revenue and 1,100 employees. Hatfield, a Polk County town of whose population is approximately 400, is home to Buddy Bean's Hatfield Lumber Co., which employs 135 and brought in $79 million in revenue last year.

10 Largest Private Companies
By Number of Employees

Baptist Health — 7,000
Stephens Group Inc. — 4,470
Simmons Foods Inc. — 4,400
O.K. Industries Inc. — 3,800
E-Z Mart Inc. — 3,800
Mountaire Corp. — 3,100
Sparks Regional Medical Center — 2,750
K-Mac Enterprises Inc. — 2,650
Harps Food Stores Inc. — 2,566
George's Inc. — 2,300

75 Largest Private Companies By Location
City — Number of Companies

Little Rock — 25
Fort Smith — 6
Fayetteville — 5
North Little Rock — 4
Springdale — 4
Jonesboro — 3
Conway — 2
Jacksonville — 2
Pine Bluff — 2
Siloam Springs — 2
Stuttgart — 2
Texarkana — 2
Bearden — 1
Bella Vista — 1
Berryville — 1
Blytheville — 1
Danville — 1
Decatur — 1
El Dorado — 1
Forrest City — 1
Hatfield — 1
Hot Springs — 1
Lincoln — 1
Mountain Home — 1
Russellville — 1
Searcy — 1
Sherwood — 1
Smackover — 1