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Arkansas Business Year in Review: Best & Worst of 2022

6 min read

Best Family Christmas Gift

In November, Dillard’s Inc. announced that its board of directors approved a special dividend of $15 per share on the Class A and Class B common stock of the Little Rock retailer. 

The announcement was good news for the members of CEO William Dillard II’s family. As of Sept. 30, the family members owned 7.6 million shares.

The special dividend is payable on Jan. 9 to shareholders of record as of Dec. 15. That math translates to $114.25 million dollars for the family. 

Worst Wake-up Call

Fayetteville police officers found Tyson Foods Inc. CFO John R. Tyson asleep in a stranger’s bed in the early morning hours of Nov. 6. 

Tyson, the 32-year-old son of the company’s chairman of the board and the great-grandson of the company founder, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and criminal trespassing. News and police video of the arrest of the groggy Tyson executive were covered by media outlets across the country. 

Tyson pleaded not guilty. His trial on the charges is scheduled for Feb. 15.

Tyson Foods said the Springdale company supported Tyson after a review of the incident through a committee of independent members of its board of directors.

Best News for Sake Lovers

Business partners Matt Bell and Ben Bell (no relation) plan to open Origami Sake, the state’s first sake brewery, in Hot Springs sometime in the first half of next year. The partners have a grand design: making Arkansas the “Napa Valley of sake.”

Worst End to a Promising Career

In September, former Craighead County Clerk Jacob “Kade” Holliday was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for stealing more than $1.5 million in county money.

His crime was discovered in June 2020, and auditors found that $1.58 million was missing and had been moved to Holliday’s personal banking accounts.

Holliday, 34, was interviewed by investigators and admitted to taking the money to fund his businesses: Holliday Development & Management LLC and Total Healthcare LLC, which operated restaurants and coffee shops in Jonesboro.

A Jonesboro native, Holliday had already made a name for himself in Craighead County when he was elected county clerk at the age of 24. In 2016, Arkansas Business recognized him in its annual 20 in Their 20s feature. 

Best Window Dressing

More than 2,200 custom-ordered windows are restoring the original look of the old Veterans Affairs Hospital in downtown Little Rock. The epic replacement is part of Pace Burt’s $25 million transformation of the former 1,234-bed infirmary into a 160-unit apartment project.

Worst News for Diners

Average restaurant menu prices in the United States rose 7.7% between June 2021 and June 2022, the strongest 12-month increase since 1981, according to the National Restaurant Association. Higher input costs — particularly food and labor — drove the increase in menu prices, a trend seen in restaurants throughout Arkansas. 

Worst Listening at a Hearing

Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Doralee Chandler revoked a Fort Smith grower’s medical marijuana license in late November after a five-minute recess to consider 50 minutes’ worth of pleadings from the cultivator, Storm Nolan of Fort Smith.

The hearing came after a Pulaski County judge ruled that River Valley Cultivation had received its license improperly and ordered the state to revoke it. Nolan testified in detail about how he saw revocation as unfair and unlawful, but Chandler repeatedly asked him to stick to the narrow issue of his own licensing, rather than bringing up problems in other license applications that did not result in sanctions.

Best News for an Old Shopping Center

The purchase of Little Rock’s Breckenridge Village by a group led by the Keet family will mean new life for the shopping center, built in the 1970s. “The group intends to bring back the glory days of Breckenridge and revitalize it with a diverse combination of restaurants and other retail spaces,” Jim Keet, chairman of JTJ Restaurants, said.

Best Business Secret Summary

The summary came from ed tech pioneer Harvey Hughes of Mountain Home, recalling a lesson from Walmart: “[Sam Walton] told us one time that if you take care of one customer, they’ll tell five people about it. But if you fail to take care of that customer, they’ll tell 15. He called that the secret, that you have to take care of customers.”

Worst Way to Recruit Talent

In January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority awarded Stephens Inc. of Little Rock $18.17 million in a dispute over corporate raiding by Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. of St. Louis.

Stephens, a privately held investment bank, filed a complaint with FINRA in 2017 and accused the broker-dealer and investment adviser of poaching four of the six financial advisers who worked in Stephens’ Jonesboro office. The raiding occurred over an 11-month period from 2016-17, the company said

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the independent arbitrators found that Stephens suffered a loss of net profits as a result of the wrongdoing and loss of business. The arbitrators also ruled in Stephens’ favor on its other allegations of wrongdoing, including breach of contract. 

A Benjamin F. Edwards spokesman said the company would challenge the award. 

Best Trash News

Chicot County officials welcomed the news earlier this year that a $50 million landfill waste-to-energy gasification plant is coming to the county, making it the first of its kind in the South.

MD Power LLC of Lakeland, Florida, will build and operate the plant, which won’t burn trash, but rather heat it to gasify the solid waste. The process creates a synthetic gas that’s later combusted on the property, turning a turbine to generate energy that can be sold.

The remaining metal that isn’t gasified through the process can be recycled. The other byproducts also can be sold to cement companies to make concrete 30% harder. 

The groundbreaking for the plant took place in November, and the project is expected to take 16 to 18 months to complete. 

Best Match

USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren ended its run as a public company when it accepted a $435 million bid from German logistics giant DB Schenker in June. The deal was finalized when USA Truck shareholders overwhelmingly approved the terms Sept. 12. USA Truck, founded in 1983 as a subsidiary of ArcBest Corp., became a subsidiary of DB Schenker and was delisted from Nasdaq.

Former USA Truck CEO James Reed called the deal a “match made in heaven.” DB Schenker wants to establish a footprint in the state, and USA Truck was its first acquisition to start that.

Best Golf-Driven News

What’s better than one outdoor golf-driven entertainment center? The Little Rock metro area could get two in the coming months as the T-Time development in North Little Rock and Topgolf Entertainment in west Little Rock step up for a two-project scramble.

Worst Underground Maze

Redstone Construction Group is working through a hellish maze of pipelines and cables buried along a 1-mile stretch of west Little Rock’s Rodney Parham Road. The contractor is at the mercy of utility companies to untangle that underground public right-of-way puzzle. With an ever-slipping timetable, the $6.7 million improvement project could be a record-setter for completing work over such a short distance.

Best Worst Tax Increase

Property owners across Arkansas are bracing for an ongoing rise in taxes thanks to statewide reappraisals. That kick in the wallet is countered with historic escalations in real estate values. Higher taxes, bad. Higher property values, good.

Worst Answer

Anyone who knows former UA assistant football coach Gus Malzahn knows he won’t ever be caught saying anything remotely controversial publicly.

He had his chance at the Arkansas Trucking Association convention in May when an attendee asked him to say why he left the Razorbacks in 2006 after one year, which was awash in intrigue at the time because of rumors of staff discord. Malzahn answered blandly about how the experience was “complicated” but he learned a lot and didn’t have any hard feelings. That left the audience underwhelmed.

Even Malzahn’s wife, Kristi, was unimpressed. After he was done, Malzahn asked his wife what she thought of his response.

“Terrible,” Kristi Malzahn said, drawing a laugh from her husband and the crowd.

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