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The unknown corporation: Crossparex does $400 million in revenues from tiny Alicia.

RONALD WHITLOW'S NAME recognition is certain to improve significantly in Alicia (Lawrence County) and northeast Arkansas.

Few people in that community of 157 know Whitlow, and apparently none knows of his giant corporation, Crossparex International, which is the eighth largest private company in Arkansas. The firm had about $400 million in revenues last year, according to Whitlow and Dun & Bradstreet Information Services.

Timothy L. Taylor, executive director of the chamber of commerce in Walnut Ridge, 12 miles north of Alicia on U.S. Highway 67, says he has never heard of Whitlow or Crossparex. Neither had anyone in Taylor's office.

A bank executive at the Bank of Tuckerman, 12 miles south of Alicia on Highway 67, also was unfamiliar with Whitlow. One person at Alicia's City Hall says she knows Whitlow, but she was flabbergasted to learn that he is a corporate executive.

Even a call to the home of state Rep. Tom Baker of Alicia found no one who knows Whitlow.

If Crossparex International meets Whitlow's expectations for 1993, it will be the largest private company in Arkansas. Whitlow says he anticipates his sales to double to $800 million this year, which should catapult Crossparex well past Riceland Foods Inc., which had revenues of $648 million last year.

How does a $400 million company escape the attention of Whitlow's neighbors and even an entire state?

One reason is that Whitlow is the only employee of Crossparex in Arkansas, even though the company has about 1,250 employees worldwide. Whitlow runs Crossparex from his modest home at 1 Whitlow Lane in Alicia.

But Whitlow, 69, says he owns 2,000 acres of land in Panama, where Crossparex grows roses and other plants that are sold throughout the world. He says his acreage is 60 miles south of Cristobal, near the Panama Canal on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country.

"We are a registered Panamanian corporation," Whitlow says, "and I plan on moving the whole thing to Panama some day. We've been down in Panama since 1986."

"We basically grow cut flowers in Panama and sell them in Europe, Central America, South America, Mexico, Canada and the United States."

Whitlow says he sells many of his plants to large retail chains in the United States such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp. He travels extensively throughout the country, he says, and visits Panama three or four times a year.

Whitlow began his nursery business in Alicia in 1960. The predecessor company to Crossparex was Southern Central Nurseries Inc.

"We used to have greenhouses around here, but I couldn't find enough people to work," Whitlow says. "So that's why we moved to Panama.

"Before 1960, I had been in the irrigation business. I had no horticultural background or education. I got interested in it when I met some people in Florida who were in the business."

For each of the past three years, he says, the company has doubled its sales.

Whitlow says the potential for his business is almost unlimited. He notes that in The Netherlands the per capita expenditure on flowers and plants is $626. In the United States it is only $24.

"We're doing our fastest growth in Europe," Whitlow says.
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Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 12, 1993
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