Buying Sprees of Arkansas Banks Tops List of Top 10 Arkansas Business Stories of 2015

George Gleason's Bank of the Ozarks saw its empire expand further with the acquisition of four new bank companies.
George Gleason's Bank of the Ozarks saw its empire expand further with the acquisition of four new bank companies.
Clockwise from top left: Justin Harris, Mike Maggio, Dexter Suggs, Martha Shoffner and Paul Bookout.
Clockwise from top left: Justin Harris, Mike Maggio, Dexter Suggs, Martha Shoffner and Paul Bookout.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson introduces new AEDC Director Mike Preston and his wife, Anne.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson introduces new AEDC Director Mike Preston and his wife, Anne. (Lance Turner)
The 500 block of Main Street in Little Rock now features a tree-lined walkway, and what has been called a
The 500 block of Main Street in Little Rock now features a tree-lined walkway, and what has been called a "townscaping palette." (Alexis Hosticka)
Arkansas Children's Hospital provided this photo of the site of its planned $100 million hospital in Springdale. The site, donated by the George family, is near Arvest Ballpark, the home field for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Arkansas Children's Hospital provided this photo of the site of its planned $100 million hospital in Springdale. The site, donated by the George family, is near Arvest Ballpark, the home field for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals
A proposed plan by the Arkansas Highway & Transportation to rebuild a portion of Interstate 30 in Little Rock with 10 lanes was met with mixed reviews.
A proposed plan by the Arkansas Highway & Transportation to rebuild a portion of Interstate 30 in Little Rock with 10 lanes was met with mixed reviews.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the country caused jubilation and tribulation in county courthouses.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the country caused jubilation and tribulation in county courthouses.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson moved a computer science initiative through the General Assembly that required computer science courses to be offered in all Arkansas high schools.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson moved a computer science initiative through the General Assembly that required computer science courses to be offered in all Arkansas high schools. (Mark Carter)
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a national retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York, said of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that “This company is too big to manage.”
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a national retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York, said of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that “This company is too big to manage.”
Photo archivist John Rogers was himself the focus of a few camera shots in 2015.
Photo archivist John Rogers was himself the focus of a few camera shots in 2015.

The acquisition trail was well traveled by Arkansas lenders in 2015, with the most prominent destinations for new deals lying in Georgia, Florida and Missouri.

Little Rock’s Bank of the Ozarks Inc. led the procession with a string of out-of-state stock-swap transactions valued at almost $1.5 billion.

The biggest of the bunch was its record-setting deal to buy the $4.4 billion-asset Community & Southern Bank of Atlanta in a buy valued at nearly $800 million.

Announced Oct. 19, the deal represents the single largest acquisition by an Arkansas bank in terms of both purchase price and assets acquired — ever.

Bank of the Ozarks followed that up with a Nov. 9 announcement of its pending $402.5 million stock swap deal for $1.7 billion-asset C1 Bank of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The addition of Community & Southern and C1 will push the $9.3 billion-asset Bank of the Ozarks beyond the $15 billion mark and establish it firmly as the second-largest lender based in Arkansas.

For now, Arvest Bank of Fayetteville remains the largest financial institution in Arkansas with total assets of $15.6 billion.

Bank of the Ozarks completed two other deals in 2015 to grow its franchise: $1.4 billion-asset Intervest National Bank of New York, a $228.5 million deal that closed on Feb. 11; and $345 million-asset Bank of the Carolinas of Mocksville, North Carolina, a $64.7 million deal that closed on Aug. 6.

Little Rock’s Bear State Financial announced and closed its first significant out-of-state deal, which expanded its holdings into southwest Missouri.

The $70 million purchase of $454.9 million-asset Metropolitan National Bank of Springfield also ushered in a new CEO: Mark McFatridge, former CEO of Metropolitan. The acquisition moved total assets at Bear State to nearly $2 billion.

Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff completed tandem out-of-state, stock-swap purchases during the first quarter that increased its asset total to more than $7.6 billion, a whopping 65 percent jump.

In addition to the acquisitions of First State Bank of Union City, Tennessee, and Liberty Bank of Springfield, Missouri, Simmons closed on a $20.7 million purchase announced in April.

Closed on Oct. 30, the Ozark Trust & Investment Corp. of Springfield, Missouri, deal pushed assets under management at Simmons to $4.5 billion. Its Trust Co. of the Ozarks subsidiary had $1.1 billion in assets under management with more than 1,300 accounts and clients.

Home BancShares Inc. of Conway announced and completed two deals that enlarged its Florida holdings. The $101.6 million deal for Bay Cities Bank of Tampa brought $530 million in assets, which pushed Home’s total to $9 billion.

Centennial Bank also bought the Florida Panhandle deposits of Doral Bank of San Juan, which was shut down by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The deal represented deposits of about $466 million.

Four Arkansas lenders in the northwest quadrant of the state attracted suitors whose overtures culminated in definitive merger agreements:

  • The $195 million-asset Benefit Bank of Fort Smith became part of Armstrong Bank of Muskogee, Oklahoma, after a $32 million sale to Armstrong’s parent company, Ironhorse Financial Group Inc.
  • The $358 million-asset Bank of Fayetteville sold for $42.3 million to Farmers & Merchants Bankshares Inc. of Stuttgart.
  • The $133 million-asset Parkway Bank of Rogers was poised to sell for $21.8 million to Citizens Bancshares of Batesville Inc.
  • The $112 million-asset Twin Lakes Community Bank of Flippin (Marion County) was positioned to sell in a $15.2 million deal to First National Bancorp Inc. of Green Forrest (Carroll County), parent of Anstaff Bank.

2. Political Scandals

Hardly a year passes that some Arkansas politicians don’t do something scandalous, but 2015’s political scandals have risen above the run-of-the-mill.

In March, Arkansas Times reporter Benjamin Hardy reported that Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, and his wife had given their two adopted daughters to another couple, where one of the girls was sexually abused. The scandal became national news, and while Harris defended the decisions he and his wife made, he subsequently voted for a new law that made such “rehoming” a felony and announced that he would not seek re-election.

Matt Campbell, the Little Rock attorney whose online outlet is called Blue Hog Report, took two more trophies in 2015: Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio and former Little Rock School District Superintendent Dexter Suggs.

Maggio in January waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of accepting a bribe in the form of campaign contributions from nursing home magnate Michael Morton in 2013. In return, he lowered a jury’s $5 million verdict against one of Morton’s nursing homes to $1 million, as Campbell had noted in 2014. (Morton has not been charged with any crime.)

Suggs resigned in April, a week after Campbell presented evidence that his dissertation contained significant plagiarism. Indiana Wesleyan University subsequently stripped him of his doctorate.

Political scandals that broke in earlier years still garnered headlines in 2015. Martha Shoffner, the Democrat who resigned as state treasurer in disgrace in 2013, began serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison for bribery and extortion. Former state Paul Bookout, the Jonesboro Democrat who resigned as state senator in 2013, pleaded guilty in March to the federal felony of wire fraud for using campaign contributions for personal expenses, but he isn’t scheduled to be sentenced until March 2016.

Steven Jones, the deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services and a former state representative who pleaded guilty last year to accepting bribes, got company this year. Phillip W. Carter, a former West Memphis City Council member and juvenile probation officer in Crittenden County, pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme to bribe Jones, and Ted Suhl, owner of Trinity Behavior Healthcare at Warm Springs (Randolph County) and other behavioral treatment facilities, was accused in a federal indictment of being the source of the bribes.

(Suhl wasn’t alone in being accused of bribing DHS employees. A case that began in December 2014 grew to include four operators of feeding programs for the poor who allegedly bribed two DHS workers to approve inflated claims on U.S. Department of Agriculture funding.)

While he doesn’t appear to have broken any laws, Michael Lamoureux, the former president of the state Senate who is now chief of staff to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, got critical attention when the Associated Press reported that he had been paid $120,000 in 2013 by a nonprofit called the Arkansas Faith & Freedom Coalition, which had total revenue that year of about $140,000 contributed exclusively by lobbyists.

3. New Faces in State Government

A new Republican governor in 2015 and the Republican sweep of state offices last year meant a transformation at the state’s highest bureaucratic levels and many new faces in Arkansas government.

One of the most important changes came early in the year, when on Jan. 9, then-Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson chose Larry Walther of Little Rock as director of the state Department of Finance & Administration to succeed the long-serving and well-respected Richard Weiss. Walther headed the Arkansas Department of Economic Development (now the Economic Development Commission) under Gov. Mike Huckabee, was director of the U.S. Trade & Development Agency and was a member of the board of the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 2011-2013.

A stream of new appointments followed, beginning even before Hutchinson was sworn in on Jan. 13. Among the most significant:

  • Fayetteville lawyer Leon Jones Jr. to head the Arkansas Department of Labor, replacing Ricky Belk.
  • Brett Powell, vice president of administrative services at Ouachita Baptist University, chosen by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board — and confirmed by Hutchinson — to head the state Department of Higher Education. He replaced Shane Broadway, who took a governmental relations post with Arkansas State University.
  • Edmond Waters of Little Rock, a former vice president of A.G. Edwards & Sons, commissioner of the Arkansas Securities Department, replacing Heath Abshure. Abshure’s term was occasionally marked by heated exchanges with the Legislature and complaints from the business community he regulated.
  • Johnny Key, a former state senator and associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas System, as the new commissioner of education and the administrative head of the Arkansas Department of Education. Key replaced Tony Wood. Legislators obliged Hutchinson’s request to change the requirement that the commissioner be an educator with a master’s degree — qualifications Key didn’t have, though as a state legislator he served on the Senate Education Committee, including a stint as chair.
  • Mike Preston, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, replacing Grant Tennille. Preston previously served as director of government relations for Enterprise Florida, the chief economic development organization for the state of Florida.
  • And most recently, Kane Webb, a veteran journalist, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Webb, a former editor at Arkansas Business who taught for a year at Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys, most recently had served on Hutchinson’s staff as a senior adviser. He succeeded the retiring Richard Davies.
  • In addition, John Selig, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the state’s largest agency, announced in October he would leave his post by the end of this year. DHS oversees the “private option,” the state’s plan to cover low-income Arkansans using federal money available under the Affordable Care Act. A task force assembled by Gov. Asa Hutchinson is examining ways to change the private option.

4. Downtown Redevelopment

Cities in Arkansas that made revitalizing their downtown areas a priority took great strides toward that goal in 2015.

In the same year that CJRW moved into its renovated quarters on Little Rock’s Main Street, the city announced that phase one of its Technology Park is scheduled to open on Main Street in the fall of 2016. The $100 million park is planned to be a percolator for startups, entrepreneurs and IT and design firms.

Phase one is the development of 40,000 SF of office space on Main Street, and future phases will include a wet/dry lab on Main Street, a parking deck with ground-floor retail and restaurant space and repurposing the Worthen Building on the southeast corner of Capitol and Main.

“We’re building a home base for these emerging tech companies to be able to build and stay in Little Rock,” said Brent Birch, the executive director of the Tech Park. “We have these companies today but they’re scattered.”

That’s part of the reason Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson elected to return his company’s presence to Emma Avenue in downtown Springdale. Springdale’s downtown, long a neglected relic, sprung to life with the opening of the Razorback Greenway, a 36-mile multiuse trail, a part of which snakes through downtown.

Tyson and members of the Walton family bought properties downtown, spurring a renewed interest in the area. The city is producing a Downtown Master Plan that calls for $20.5 million in improvements.

John Tyson attended a wrecking-ball ceremony in October at the site of Tyson’s planned new office building, which will house about 300 workers; another Tyson building down the street will have 75 workers.

“Springdale has been a cornerstone for my granddad, for my dad and for myself,” Tyson said. “Downtown Springdale is where we started.”

Bentonville’s downtown growth is still going strong after having taken off with the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011. Since then, retail and restaurants have flocked to the downtown area to take advantage of the museum’s popularity. One example: Thrive Apartments, a multiuse complex with 62 units just off the square, which filled up within one month of opening.

Fayetteville’s downtown resurgence is all about starting — starting up, that is. When Casey Kinsey moved his Web development firm, Lofty Labs, to a building on East Center Street, he joined a popular trend. Kinsey’s office is just above Jeff Amerine’s Startup Junkie Consulting, which is just across the square from John James’ Hayseed Ventures, the startup funding organization James left Acumen Brands to run full time.

The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce paid $2.4 million for a 24,600-SF building at 21 W. Mountain St. that will house the chamber and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.

“We moved right into the tech hotspot,” Kinsey said. “It’s a startup alley.”

5. New Hospital Plans

Arkansas’ health care landscape continued to shift in 2015, from major organizations forming partnerships to the announcement of a new Arkansas Children’s Hospital in northwest Arkansas.

In October, one of the biggest health care announcements came when four hospital organizations and Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield said they had formed The Partnership, a shared service organization. The hospitals are Baptist Health and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, both of Little Rock; St. Bernards Healthcare of Jonesboro; and Washington Regional Medical System in Fayetteville. The organizations said the collaboration would develop programs that improve health care quality and lower costs for patients and providers across the state.

But it wasn’t the only partnership announced during the year. In August, CHI St. Vincent of Little Rock said it had signed a five-year management agreement with Conway Regional Health System. The partnership is designed to improve access and quality and reduce the cost of care. Chad Aduddell, CHI St. Vincent’s chief executive officer, said the move was made because the cost of health care has become unsustainable, “both nationally and locally.”

The two health care companies also said in August they were forming a new organization, Arkansas Health Alliance, designed to help independent community hospitals and health care systems work together.

Meanwhile, Arkansas Children’s Hospital of Little Rock said in August it would build an approximately $100 million children’s hospital in Springdale that is projected to open in early 2018. Construction is expected to start in the spring at the 37-acre site. Total cost of the hospital, including the furnishings and operating costs for five years, is estimated at $184 million.

In December, St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro announced a $130 million, four-phase construction plan that will add a five-story surgical and intensive care centers tower; expand its cancer center and renovate existing structures. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2019.

In the fall of 2016, two osteopathic schools are expected to start teaching students. In December, the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation endorsed New York Institute of Technology’s plans for a College of Osteopathic Medicine on the Arkansas State University at Jonesboro campus. The endorsement allows NYIT to open in August with 115 students.

Construction also is underway on the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith, developed by the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation. The Fort Smith college also is aiming for an August 2016 opening after construction is completed in May.

6. Highway Acceleration

Congress did its part, finally, when it passed a long-term highway funding bill and President Barack Obama signed it into law Dec. 4.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act will provide $305 billion over the next five years, a welcome development after 35 short-term fixes during the past decade. Long-term funding means states such as Arkansas can now formulate long-term plans to repair and replace highways and bridges.

“It’s good news for Arkansas because it allows us to plan five years into the future,” said Danny Straessle, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department. “This is what we’ve been looking for: a long-term solution. Five years is a good start.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed a working group this year to come up with recommendations for how the state can raise $160 million annually in state funds during the next three years. Federal funding is 80 percent of highway costs so the state has to come up with its 20 percent match.

The AHTD has plans for the money, too. This year it announced a $450 million project to widen Interstate 30 through Little Rock and replace the Arkansas River Bridge over a 7-mile stretch that Straessle said sees 125,000 vehicles daily.

Also included in the work would be lane widening on I-40 between JFK Boulevard and U.S. Highway 67/167 in North Little Rock and improvements to the Interstate 630 exchange in Little Rock.

Critics of the project said expanding I-30 to 10 lanes would be too costly and hinder downtown development, while fixing arterial roads would be a more efficient way to address traffic problems. Straessle acknowledged that the price tag for I-30 could go up another $200 million.

Widening I-30 would just move traffic congestion to another area, which would lead to an “endless cycle,” said Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan, a voluntary group of local governments that serves as the region’s planning agency.

For federal money to be used for the I-30 project, McKenzie said, it has to conform to Metroplan, which caps the interstate system at six lanes. Metroplan would have to waive that requirement, about which McKenzie was noncommittal.

“Everybody is working very hard to make this a good and doable project,” McKenzie said. “But we’re just not there yet.”

Earlier this year, the AHTD postponed bids on 87 projects because of the uncertainty of federal funding. It might not look it, but Arkansas is awash in highways — ranking 12th among the states with 16,000 highway miles.

Arkansas also maintains 12,000 city, county and state bridges, of which 861 were ranked structurally deficient in 2014.

7. Same-Sex Issues

Same-sex marriage and other issues regarding gay rights continued to generate controversy in Arkansas as they did throughout the United States this year, controversy that prompted action by powerful business interests like Wal-Mart.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review an appeals court decision that upheld bans on same-sex marriages in four states. The Arkansas Supreme Court in November 2014 had heard a challenge to the state’s gay-marriage ban but, in a controversial delay, had not issued a ruling.

In February, the state’s high court told lawyers to argue which justices should hear the case because its membership had changed on Jan. 1, six weeks after oral arguments were heard in the case.

While Arkansans were waiting for the state Supreme Court to rule, several cities in the state began working on ordinances prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in hiring, housing and business and public accommodations.

At the same time, the Arkansas Legislature in February approved Act 137, which prohibits cities from barring discrimination against any groups not already covered under state law. Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed it to become law without his signature.

Legislators in late March then sought to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents said would allow businesses to refuse service to homosexuals and the transgendered. Hundreds of foes of the RFRA demonstrated at the state Capitol, and Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized the proposal as well as similar legislation in other states like Indiana.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon joined Cook and other business leaders in opposing the measure, and McMillon asked Hutchinson to veto it, saying it “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

Hutchinson then called for changes in the bill to bring it closer to federal law. He signed the compromise legislation on April 2.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided that a new case was necessary before it could determine whether gay marriage was legal in the state, a decision that, observers correctly noted, would probably delay its consideration of the issue until after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the matter.

On April 8, in a highly unusual move, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Associate Justice Paul Danielson recused from the case to decide which justices should rule on gay marriage in Arkansas. “I believe that a majority of this court has created out of whole cloth an issue to delay the disposition in Smith v. Wright, No. CV-14-427,” the gay-marriage case, Hannah wrote.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal throughout the land. The Arkansas Supreme Court then dismissed the state’s gay-marriage case.

In November, news media reported that retired Justice Donald Corbin, in an oral history about the court, said that the state’s justices had in fact decided by 6 to 1 to strike down Arkansas’ ban on gay marriage but the ruling was never issued.

8. Educational Reboots

It’s almost cheating to call this one story, but efforts to update and upgrade education in Arkansas have grabbed a lot of headlines in 2015.

The news started in January with the Arkansas Board of Education’s controversial decision to take control of the Little Rock School District, the state’s largest, because six of its 48 schools were deemed to be in academic distress. While Dexter Suggs was originally allowed to continue as superintendent, he resigned in a plagiarism scandal in April and was replaced by Little Rock attorney and former school board member Baker Kurrus.

In February, newly installed Gov. Asa Hutchinson made good on a campaign promise by signing the first-in-the-nation law requiring all public and charter high schools to offer computer science courses. In the fall semester, enrollment in high school computer courses grew by 260 percent to nearly 4,000.

In March, Hutchinson signed legislation to overhaul the state’s career education system to better align higher education offerings with the needs of industries in the state, and by the fall the state Department of Workforce Services was making grants as part of the new Arkansas Sector Partnership initiative.

In September, eVersity, the University of Arkansas System’s online-only university, began accepting applications, and the first classes will start Jan. 10. Students take one course at a time, and each course last six weeks.

Other educational changes in 2015 include a crop of new college chancellors and presidents. Roderick L. Smothers assumed the presidency of Philander Smith College in Little Rock in January. Rex Horne resigned as president of Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia in May, and Charles Wright is serving as interim president. Trey Berry succeeded David F. Rankin as president of Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia in June.

Three new chancellors won’t officially start work until January.

Joseph E. Steinmetz, executive vice president and provost of Ohio State University, will become chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville on Jan. 1. He will succeed Dan Ferritor, who has been interim chancellor since David Gearhart retired in July.

The University of Arkansas at Monticello will get its new chancellor on Jan. 15. She is Karla Hughes, previously EVP and provost of the University of Louisiana System. Jay Jones acted as chancellor after the retirement of Jack Lassiter a year ago.

Another Karla will become chancellor of Arkansas State University’s two-year college at Beebe on Jan. 16. Karla Fisher has been vice president of academics at Butler Community College in Kansas. She will succeed Eugene McKay, who is retiring after almost 50 years at ASU-Beebe, including the past 21 as chancellor.

Joel Anderson has announced his retirement as chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock at the end of June 2016.

9. Wal-Mart Struggles

Some retail watchers wondered in 2015 whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had finally become too big to manage. Despite being No. 1 on the Fortune 500 list with revenue of $485.7 billion for its fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, Wal-Mart faced a number of challenges.

In October, the retailer laid off 450 workers from its home office in Bentonville. It also warned the investment community that its earnings per share could fall 6 to 12 percent for its fiscal year that starts in February. That news sent Wal-Mart’s stock price tumbling by 10 percent, the largest drop in more than six years. As of the close on Tuesday, its stock price was $60.39.

Wal-Mart blamed part of the slump in earnings on spending to improve its stores, workforce and e-commerce.

To boost its online sales — which were $12 billion for the fiscal year that ended in January, far behind that of the online leader, Amazon — Wal-Mart said it would spend more than $2 billion on its e-commerce and digital capital expenses during the current fiscal year and the next.

Wal-Mart also said in February that it would start paying employees a minimum of $9 an hour this year and $10 in 2016. A number of Wal-Mart’s competitors were already paying $9 per hour or more, and union groups hammered Wal-Mart for not paying higher wages. Still, the announcement touched off a minimum wage race as other retailers said they too would increase their minimum wage to $9 an hour or higher.

Wal-Mart also announced some top management changes. Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said he will retire at the end of the year after more than 20 years with the company. He will be replaced by Brett Biggs, who has been an executive vice president and CFO of Walmart International.

Other developments of note regarding public companies in Arkansas:

  • In October, Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock announced a $575 million all-cash deal to sell its data center business to TierPoint LLC of St. Louis, a privately held data center services company. Windstream will then partner with TierPoint, allowing Windstream to continue to sell cloud computing services.

    Windstream also reported a fiscal second-quarter loss of $111.2 million on revenue of $1.4 billion. That’s compared with net income of $14 million on revenue of $1.42 billion during the same quarter last year.
  • Dillard’s Inc.’s stock price slid 45.1 percent between its opening of $125.44 on Jan. 2 to the close on Dec. 14. Between Jan. 2 and Dec. 30, 2014, its stock price increased 28.2 percent.

10. John Rogers’ Woes

The world became a smaller place for John Rogers this year as the walls pressed in on the fallen sports memorabilia and photo archive dealer.

Rogers spent seven nights behind bars during two jail stints, was forced to surrender his passport and was fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet to make sure he didn’t violate a court order to not leave Arkansas.

A bench warrant for contempt of court for disregarding a court order to provide asset information to First Arkansas Bank & Trust of Jacksonville led to a two-night sleepover at the Pulaski County Detention Center in July.

The action stemmed from a default judgment the bank landed against Rogers in January that has since grown to more than $15 million. The 42-year-old businessman lost his wheels when First Arkansas seized his 2003 GMC Yukon on Aug. 21 as part of its collection efforts.

A late-night visit to his former North Little Rock offices in August resulted in a Dec. 3 arrest on felony charges of burglary and theft of property. Rogers made bail after a five-night stay at the county lockup that preceded his bond hearing.

The misbehavior that prompted his run-ins with local judiciary and law enforcement was on top of his purported misdeeds as an alleged serial fraudster. Counterfeit sports memorabilia, forged signatures on bogus contracts, phantom transactions used to borrow millions of dollars and bank fraud remain subjects of an ongoing federal investigation.

Rogers started 2015 as a defendant in six lawsuits, and seven more joined the party this year. The list of plaintiffs stretched beyond Arkansas west to Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, New Zealand and Australia while extending north and east to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Aggrieved lenders, investors and more sent the tally of known judgments and claims against Rogers and his Sports Cards Plus ventures to more than $48 million. That amount is doubled with the inclusion of punitive damages sought in some cases.

A court-appointed receiver has overseen his North Little Rock business since January after Rogers was removed from the management and ownership picture in 2014.

Rogers touted the value of his photo archives and other assets at $300 million while operational results indicate a business worth far less. This year, the findings of a forensic audit commissioned by the IRS revealed that his business didn’t cash flow during 2011-14.

His corporate financial records were in such disarray that an assessment of operations prior to 2011 was deemed of questionable value. The audit findings indicated that he and his family were able to live large thanks to other people’s money, not profits.

The 12,400-SF manor Rogers had built in North Little Rock’s Park Hill neighborhood entered foreclosure in August along with business property, all tied to $3.5 million of delinquent debt.

Rogers was suspected of helping orchestrate an unsuccessful one-two-three-strike effort to acquire his former business by Red Alert Media Matrix.

The asset-less venture made successive unsubstantiated cash offers of $59 million in January, $28 million in April and $18 million in June to buy the Rogers assets.

Without verified funds and questions about millions of shares of unregistered stock that were part of its last two offers, Red Alert was rejected by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.

Red Alert placed an incredible paper value of $972 million on the stock. The number is tied to the astounding “insurable value” of $1.5 billion for the assets of the insolvent Rogers ventures.