The year 2016 was exceptional in politics and business from the appeal of Donald Trump to a strengthening economy to big moves by some of Arkansas’ biggest brands.
Here is the list of Talk Business & Politics top stories of 2016:
The Trump Phenomenon: Republican Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election was the political earthquake story for 2016 and it stands to define much in 2017. After dispatching a crowded GOP field, Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in one of the biggest upsets in modern political history.
Medicine via the ballot box: If Trump was an earthquake, here in Arkansas, the legalization of medical marijuana was an aftershock. Arkansas voters easily passed medical cannabis setting up a new industry and a whole new set of laws and regulations that will occupy the state legislature’s time in the next session.
Federal strength: Republican Sen. John Boozman, R-Rogers, cruised to an easy re-election bid over Democratic challenger Conner Eldridge. And all four GOP Congressmen earned new terms versus token opponents.
More GOP gains: Those federal victories combined with Trump’s Arkansas landslide boosted the state GOP to even more gains at the local level. After political victories and three post-election party switches, Republicans pretty much have supermajorities in the Arkansas legislature.
How low can you go? Arkansas set records in 2016 for low unemployment. The state finished the year around 4% unemployment and dipped below that level for awhile mid-year. Arkansas employers also added jobs throughout the year, up a net 25,000 workers over the last 12 months.
Bank on it: Arkansas’ publicly traded banks had a busy year. Home Bancshares (Centennial Bank), Bank of the Ozarks, and Simmons Bank all announced and closed on big deals that grew their assets across the $10 billion threshold.
Retail realignment: Wal-Mart was wheeling and dealing also. The world’s largest retailer, headquartered in Bentonville, bought upstart online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion this year. It also upped its stake in Chinese e-commerce site JD.com. Wal-Mart shed businesses in Mexico and exited the express format business after limited experimentation.
Big deals: In projects topping a billion dollars, Gov. Asa Hutchinson came back from China with a $1.3 billion project in hand. Chinese-led Sun Paper Company will build a massive pulp mill project in south Arkansas to supply its diaper business. And the state’s first superproject – Big River Steel – made progress and is open for business in the Northeast corner of the state.
Home sales strength: Another major economic story centered on home sales, which rose in Arkansas’ major markets for the sixth straight year. With the first interest rate hike in almost a decade, we’ll see if that momentum continues in 2017.
Tourism prospers: Tourism and hospitality tops our stories of the year. The industry continues its torrid pace of growth as every economic indicator we watch on this front – jobs, tax collections and new projects – continues to accelerate.