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We're on the map.

State Produces a President, Gains Place in the Minds of Americans

"A YEAR TO FORGET" WAS the headline for Arkansas Business' last issue of 1991. With the loss of legendary Arkansas businessman W.R. "Witt" Stephens of Prattsville and Little Rock, and the death of the 172-year-old Arkansas Gazette among other things, it wasn't the best of times.

1992 is a different story.

In fact, it is one for the history books.

After more than a year of hard campaigning that included regular setbacks, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd president of the United States.

And he wasn't the only one to attract attention.

Arkansans and their small state followed closely on Clinton's coattails. Everyone from Clinton's best friends, like Carolyn Staley, to his worst enemies, like Sheffield Nelson, each got his 15 minutes of fame when the national media came calling.

For those who have had trouble placing Arkansas on a map of the United States, the national and international attention brought on by the Clinton campaign solved that problem once and for all.

Of course, the publicity was not all good. President Bush referred to Arkansas as the "lowest of the low" during one nationally televised debate with Clinton and independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.

But, even that worked out for the best. The state Department of Parks and Tourism turned George's comments to its advantage. Tourism numbers soared in October and November.

Although Clinton and politics made big news this election year, the biggest business news of 1992 came in April with the passing of legendary retailing giant and billionaire Sam Walton of Bentonville. Mister Sam, the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., was 74.

We also lost former Rep. Wilbur Mills, D-Ark., who died May 2 at age 82.

Ironically, Mills toyed with the idea of running for president in 1972. Clinton was serious from the word, "Go."

That decision should continue to pay off for Arkansas economically.

While visitors and dollars coming to the state should continue to increase, especially if Clinton declares Hot Springs or another Arkansas locale to be his vacation retreat, the state is losing some of its top business and community leaders.

Most prominent among them is Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty. The former chief executive officer of Arkla Inc. was named Clinton's chief of staff in early December.

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, state Department of Health director, may be named U.S. surgeon general.

Bruce Lindsey, James L. "Skip" Rutherford and Rodney Slater are three of the other familiar names mentioned as likely Washington residents.

Who will be left to fill the leadership void?

Will dynamic newcomers reshape the state or will Arkansas slip backward in the areas in which it is finally started to move forward?

The election year shook up state government, too.

Former Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker is now governor -- but only after a lengthy legal battle. There are new faces in the Congress with the losses of Beryl Anthony and Bill Alexander and the retirement of longtime Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison.

The state is anxious to see what political newcomers Jay Dickey, Blanche Lambert and Tim Hutchinson will do.

One thing that did not change in 1992 was the form of government in Little Rock.

The much-publicized Aug. 11 election to change city government to a mayor elected by plurality vote with board members elected from wards was soundly defeated.

Back to Business

Sam Walton died of cancer at age 74 in April. As a tribute to the acumen of the charismatic founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the chain of discount stores is solidly poised to continue thriving through the 1990s and into the 21st century.

Walton's son, Robson, takes over as Wal-Mart chairman. David Glass continues to oversee the growing retail empire as chief executive officer. (And, no, we haven't heard that Glass is interested in purchasing a major league baseball team.)

Also mourned in 1992 was the death of one of Arkansas' most powerful politicians, Wilbur Mills.

Mills, known as the sultan of taxes, chaired the influential House Ways and Means Committee for 17 years.

In an election year in which the federal budget deficit was such a hot topic, it's worth remembering that Mills was responsible for insisting on $6 billion in spending cuts that President Johnson opposed in fiscal 1968.

It was the last time the federal government balanced its books.

1992 was not without scandal and surprise.

We witnessed the forced departures of Ed Maples as Pulaski County tax collector after he allegedly skimmed more than 18,000 in interest off of taxpayers' money; Fahmy Malak, after years of his controversial decisions as state coroner; and Jack Crowe, after he lost his first game of the season as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In industry, the biggest news of 1992 -- and the past several years -- came in February when R&G Sloane Co. of Sun Valley, Calif., announced it would make Arkansas its home.

The company, with annual sales of $80 million, is building a $25 million plant on a 100-acre site at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park. Up to 460 workers will be hired to make plastic pipes, fittings and related products.

In health care, the Medicaid crisis dominates the news as the year ends. It dominated Tucker's first official week as governor during a hastily called special session of the Legislature.

The merger of Worthen Banking Corp. and Union of Arkansas Corp. topped the state's financial news.

Speaking of finances, the late summer August in Arkansas festival was a great idea but a financial disaster.

Restaurateur Mark Abernathy's four-day music, arts and food festival was critically acclaimed. But the relatively low crowd turnout resulted in a financial nightmare for Abernathy as he faced more than $250,000 in debt.

There's talk he may have to have another festival in 1993 to recoup the losses. Others predict it won't happen again.

In retail, the big news was bad news. Park Plaza was plagued with youth-and gang-related problems that had shoppers nervous. With new security measures being taken at Park Plaza, it seems 1993 may be a better year for Park Plaza.

Meanwhile, across the Arkansas River, McCain Mall remodeled.

It was a good year for Arkansas stocks, thanks in large part to the "Clinton plays" investors searched for in earnest during the fall.

Overall, the state will have trouble topping 1992.

Between the positive attention of having a favorite son as president and the potential loss of leadership that could mean, 1993 could be a repeat of 1991, or it could be another year for the history books.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:economic and political developments in Arkansas
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 28, 1992
Previous Article:The Japanese connection.
Next Article:Turning dirt.

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