The worst drought to hit Arkansas in nearly a half-century doesn’t have a price tag on it yet, but economists and the state’s agricultural community are bracing for the worst.

"It will work into billions (of dollars) before it’s over with," said Bobby Coats, an extension economist and professor with the University of Arkansas’s Division of Agriculture Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.

"This is an historic drought event. The impact is being felt all over," he said.

In a wide-ranging interview on Monday, Gov. Mike Beebe said he was disappointed with executives at Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. The company in late 2011 announced it would close its refrigeration production plant in Fort Smith. The move resulted in about 1,000 lost jobs when the plant closed in June. However, Whirlpool, which employed more than 4,500 at the Fort Smith plant in 2006, moved production out of the plant for several years prior to the closing.

"What’s happened in Fort Smith is just heartbreaking. … I’m sorry, I’m just not happy with Whirlpool," Beebe said, adding that he’s not happy with any company that moves to Mexico simply for cheaper labor. Beebe said Whirlpool executives made a bad decision, and are now operating facilities in Mexico where there is social unrest.

Wal-Mart officials are "pleased with the continued momentum" as the retail giant saw revenue and profits climbed higher in the second quarter. The Bentonville-based retailer posted second-quarter net income of $4.016 billion on total revenues of $114.296 billion. One year ago, Wal-Mart recorded net income of $3.801 billion on revenue of $109.366 billion. Same-store U.S. sales rose 2.2 percent during the quarter.

"Wal-Mart had a strong second quarter, and I’m pleased with the earnings and overall results," said Mike Duke, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. president and chief executive officer. "We had positive comp sales in Wal-Mart U.S. and Sam’s Club, as well as each of our International markets, reinforcing that customers rely on Wal-Mart to help them save money and live better."


The International Trade Administration (ITA) announced new export data that shows Arkansas merchandise exports increased 36 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. Nationally, merchandise export growth climbed 7 percent higher this year. Exports from Arkansas grew from $2.8 billion to $3.8 billion in the first six months of the year versus the first six months of last year.

America’s Car-Mart said its net income slipped slightly as the average retail price of a vehicle sold fell two percent. For the Bentonville-based used car chain’s first quarter, revenues actually rose 9.4 percent to $110 million as the company continued its steady pace of new dealerships. Profits for the quarter topped $8.1 million, down slightly from $8.2 million one year ago.

Centennial Bank, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Conway-based Home BancShares Inc., entered into an agreement with Premier Bank Holding Company of Florida. Terms of the deal were not fully released and the transaction must meet regulatory conditions and court approval. Under the deal, Centennial Bank has agreed to purchase all of the issued and outstanding shares of common stock of Premier Bank, a Florida state-chartered bank that operates in the Tallahassee, Florida area. Centennial Bank plans to acquire six new locations in Tallahassee and the surrounding area.

Simmons First National Corp. announced the anticipated retirement of Chairman and CEO J. Thomas May to be effective December 2013. May has had health problems, but has continued to lead the Pine Bluff-based bank holding company.

George Makris, a longtime director, will succeed May as chairman and CEO, and will assume position of CEO-elect on Jan. 1. In addition, the Simmons First board of directors announced that David Bartlett, corporate president and chief operating officer, has been named to the new position of president and chief banking officer of Simmons First National Corporation, effective Jan. 1, reporting to the chairman and CEO.

Last-minute efforts toward reaching a payment agreement between Community Health Systems and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield have failed, which will create a change in how thousands of Northwest Arkansas residents will pay for medical services. Essentially, Community Health officials have asked for higher payment for services from Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health care insurer, but BCBS said it would not budge. Community Health owns seven hospitals and clinics in Northwest Arkansas, as well as facilities in El Dorado, Forrest City, Helena, and Newport.

Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is; his Web site address is