Revenue at Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield topped $2.5 billion last year, a milestone achieved by only one other company in the 30 years that Arkansas Business has been ranking private companies by revenue.
Being atop the annual list is not new for ABCBS; the nonprofit health insurance carrier was No. 1 last year as well. But it’s a precarious position since the No. 2 company in both cases has been Stephens Inc., the notoriously secretive investment bank in Little Rock. Its revenue is again estimated at $2.25 billion, but it is the least reliable figure on a list in which a large majority of the revenue figures have been volunteered by companies either in a direct response to a survey, in corporate communications or in official reports.
The price of entry to the list increased to $118.6 million — the revenue that Mid-South Sales Inc. generated in its 2017 fiscal year, which ended Nov. 30. It was a 12 percent increase in revenue for the Jonesboro fuel distributor, which bumped CalArk International Inc. off the list. (CalArk, the southwest Little Rock trucking company that squeaked into the top 75 last year with 2016 revenue of $116.8 million, reported a minuscule decline to $115.8 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2017.)
The 75 companies on the list generated total revenue, self-reported and estimated, of $38.9 billion, an increase of about 4 percent from last year’s list.
There was only minor jostling for position at the top of the list. Mountaire Corp., a poultry producer based in Little Rock but with most of its operations in Delaware, remained at No. 3 despite double-digit revenue growth that brought its top line to $2.2 billion. (Just the additional revenue, $200 million last year, was enough to rank in the top 50.)
Fellow poultry companies Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs (No. 6) and George’s Inc. of Springdale (No. 7) also reported solid revenue growth — especially George’s, which grew its sales by more than 18 percent to $1.12 billion.
RML Automotive, founded by Thomas “Mack” McLarty and his son Franklin in 2004, took the No. 4 spot from McLarty Automotive Group, which was founded in 2014 by another McLarty son, Mark. But the difference the two reported was a mere $7.1 million on combined sales of $3.27 billion.
An off year for Riceland Foods Inc. — revenue down 6.6 percent in the fiscal year that ended July 31 — moved the Stuttgart farmer cooperative from No. 9 last year to No. 11, leaving room in the top 10 for Arvest Bank Group. The Bentonville bank holding company reported total revenue of $1.02 billion in 2017, an increase of almost 11 percent year-over-year. For this list, bank revenue is defined as total interest income plus non-interest income. (Banks often subtract interest expenses when reporting revenue, but this is not comparable to the way other companies on the list typically calculate revenue.)
How the List Is Compiled
Arkansas Business introduced its annual list of the state’s largest private companies in 1988 and continues that tradition this week.
The list originally sought to find the 50 largest companies that are owned and headquartered in Arkansas, but it was expanded to 75 companies in 1996. The list seeks to be comprehensive and authoritative, but the very privacy of the private companies means that it has never been either.
Practically every year we discover companies that should have been on the list in previous years. There are undoubtedly companies that belong on this list that we haven’t identified, and others consistently decline to share their top-line revenue figure, which is the number used to rank the list.
Some 130 companies were surveyed for this year’s list. Of the 75 that made the final cut, more than 60 either volunteered revenue data or reported it publicly. The rest are estimates and are footnoted as such.
If you know of a company that should be on the list, or comes close and should be surveyed for future lists, please contact Editor Gwen Moritz at GMoritz@ABPG.com.
Two companies have been ranked this year for the first time.
♦ No. 58 Travel Nurse Across America of North Little Rock, which grew its revenue by more than 50 percent last year to $176.6 million after barely missing the cutoff for last year’s list with 2016 revenue of $115.3 million.
♦ No. 66 C.R. Crawford Construction LLC of Fayetteville, with 2017 revenue of $151 million. It should have been ranked 71st last year, as its 2016 revenue was $135 million.
The companies that left the list to make room for Travel Nurse and C.R. Crawford were Vestcom international Inc. of Little Rock, last year’s No. 35, and Ridout Lumber Co. of Searcy, last year’s No. 41. Vestcom, which produces the shelf-edge price labels for retailers like grocery stores, was acquired in December 2016 by out-of-state ownership, Charlesbank Capital Partners. Ridout, family-owned since 1971, was sold in January 2017 to US LBM of Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
Goodbye, Old Friends
This is the last appearance on the list for No. 15 E-Z Mart Inc. of Texarkana, Texas, and No. 55 JBE Inc. of Sherwood.
JBE Inc., the holding company for Jim Bottin’s fitness club management empire, sold its biggest piece, ABC Financial, to Thomas Bravo of Chicago at the end of 2017.
E-Z Mart was acquired last year by GPM Investments LLC of Richmond, Virginia.
For years, this list recognized Texarkana companies on either side of the Arkansas-Texas border, but that will end with the sale of E-Z Mart.
Another company on the Texas side of Texarkana, Truman Arnold Cos., dropped off the list after 2012 because its executive offices relocated to Dallas. It still has the record for the most revenue ranked on this list: $3 billion in 2011, when the price of its main product, aircraft fuel, was sky-high.
E.C. Barton & Co. of Jonesboro (No. 37) has a new CEO: Steven H. Brimner, a retail veteran hired to succeed Niel Crowson after a nationwide search. (For more, see E.C. Barton & Co. Gets Big Man at Top in this week's issue.)
Another new name on the list is that of Rob Cress, who recently succeeded John A. Riggs IV as chairman of Riggs Cat of Little Rock (No. 39), the Caterpillar dealer formerly known as J.A. Riggs Tractor Co.