Arkansas Business History (Editorial)

Journalism is sometimes called the first rough draft of history, but this week’s centerpiece feature, the annual list of the state’s 75 largest private companies, is already part of a historic document that Arkansas Business has been compiling for a quarter-century. And every time we reach out to scores of businesses around the state — large by private-company standards — and ask for data on revenue and employment, we are reminded just how important many of these companies are to their hometowns and their regions.

(Purchase the Full List: Click here to buy the list of the 75 Largest Private Companies in PDF or spreadsheet format.)

Read, for instance, Managing Editor Jan Cottingham’s interview with Steve Anthony, president of Anthony Timberlands Inc. of Bearden, who is painfully candid about how important local and regional bankers were to the survival of his company during the housing crash. Or read Assistant Editor Luke Jones’ profile of Jefferson Regional Medical Center and try to imagine Pine Bluff and the surrounding area without that major employer.

The ownership structure of the companies on the list varies. The hospitals are nonprofits, Riceland Foods and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives are member-owned coops. Some are employee-owned; some owned by a handful of partners; some even have equity investors. But more than a third of the top 75 are family-owned enterprises that bear the founding families’ name — Stephens, Anthony, Simmons, Oakley, Coulson, Lindsey, Riggs. What would Arkansas be like without the generations of family members who have enabled generations of employees to keep the lights on and the kids fed.

We know that many readers use our weekly lists primarily for sales leads, and we applaud that. But when you study this particular list, think of the Arkansas history it represents and join us in applauding the owners who have kept the state’s largest businesses humming.