The Friday Wire: Burning cash and white-collar crime

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 158 views 

A corporate disagreement over an alternative fuel plant, new jobs for Springdale and the redemption of a former fallen Arkansas political star are part of the Northwest Arkansas Friday Wire for Nov. 22.

• A dynamic dispute
What began with much fanfare and a public relations chest-thumping about alternative energy has become a divisive issue among the once harmonious partnership of Springdale-based Tyson Foods and Tulsa-based Syntroleum Fuels.

The two companies can’t agree on when to restart their Dynamic Fuels plant in Geismar, La. Every month the plant sits idle each partner burns though $1 million in cash to support a facility that is fully staffed and on-standby mode. Aside from the monthly cash burn, Syntroleum execs estimate the venture has lost out on roughly $20 million in potential sales since July because the partners can’t reach amicable restart terms.

The City Wire asked Tyson execs for an update on the plant operations during Monday’s earnings call with the media after CEO Donnie Smith said last quarter the plant would not be restarted as long as its partner (Syntroleum) was shopping its interest with potential buyers. On Monday, Smith simply said the partners had not reached a restart agreement and declined to discuss the matter any further.

Stinebaugh said there are multiple interested parties involved in due diligence to acquire Tyson Foods' interest in Dynamic Fuels and there is nothing materially wrong with the plant. He said the partners have had different interpretations of the agreement terms.

The watch is on to see if there is a corporate divorce, and if it is a calm divorce or otherwise.

• Near the closing chapter?
K. Vaughn Knight, a Northwest Arkansas attorney and one-time associate with Brandon Barber, was found guilty on eight charges related to money laundering and fraud related to Barber’s messy bankruptcy.

Barber, once a high-profile developer during the heady days of seemingly non-stop Northwest Arkansas commercial development, was arrested March 20 on several federal charges related to fraud and his bankruptcy filing.

Of the six indicted so far in the Barber case, four have plead guilty, Knight was found guilty and David Fisher was found not guilty in an alleged role to inflate real estate sales prices. In addition to Barber, the other conspirators to plead guilty were New York attorney James Van Doren, 37; Jeff Whorton, 45, of Johnson, Ark.; and Brandon Rains, 31, from Springdale.

The sentencing for those involved could happen in the first quarter of 2014, which could close the book on this white-collar crime drama that’s unfolded during the past seven years.

Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it …

• A Long Road Back
Former Arkansas Attorney General Steve Clark details his long road back when he fell from grace after a felony conviction for theft of property while serving as AG in 1980.
According to Clark, the days following his conviction only seemed to emphasize the true weight and reality of the situation.

“Where you would get invitations to give 500 speeches a year and 500 events, your phone didn’t ring,” said Clark. “Where you were having people walk across the street to say to you, ‘when you’re my governor, I’m going to be so proud’ – now they see you coming, so they walk to the other side of the street.”

• Jobs coming to Springdale
An estimated $3.2 million expansion of the American Tubing plant in Springdale is expected to create 50 new jobs and boost the company’s annual payroll to $1.35 million. The company now employs around 160.

The Springdale-based company manufactures copper components used in the air conditioning and refrigeration industries. Company products are also used by defense industry companies. The expansion will add aluminum components to the company’s product portfolio.

$1.13 billion: The value of homes sold through October in Benton and Washington counties. Agents have sold 6,172 homes through the first 10 months of 2013.

10,608: The number cars and trucks America’s Car-Mart sold during the recent quarter ending Oct. 31.

2.5 million: The number of store item combinations one replenishment manager at Wal-Mart is responsible for — 75 suppliers and 700 items that are in 3,500 stores.

$20-plus million: Amount of money raised to fund the planned $28.5 million Amazeum children’s museum in Bentonville near the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

• Apple's new headquarters gains approval of Cupertino City Council
The Cupertino City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to reduce the annual tax break it gives Apple (AAPL) — America's most valuable company by market capitalization, with a net income last year of $41.7 billion — by 15 percent. Having wrung that concession from its richest corporate resident, the council then voted unanimously to give its final blessing to Apple's proposed new headquarters. The spaceship-shaped building has now officially landed.

• A Dow Jones record
The Dow industrials closed above 16,000 for the first time on Thursday as stocks rebounded from three days of weakness, after economic data pointed to a slowly improving labor market and subdued inflation.

• A game changer
The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, in a historic and bitterly fought rule change, stripped Republicans on Thursday of their ability to block President Barack Obama's judicial and executive branch nominees.

“Experts estimate that (big data) will grow 40 times over the next six years. This will make ranking and prioritizing data that much more important and that’s what DataRank does better than anyone.”
Ryan Frazier, a founder of Fayetteville-based DataRank, on the business model of the upstart company

“I woke up one morning as a ‘who’s who.’ I went to bed that same night a ‘who’s he?’ It happened just about that quickly.”
Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, on the sudden end of this political career in 1990

“Retail is detail and there is a lot to understand, from supply chain flow, item set-up, modulars, in stock, it’s all important.”
Mike Graen, former Wal-Mart marketing executive and newly named director of Crossmark Collaboration Center. about the need for Wal-Mart suppliers to understand the retail system

“Get rid of Sam’s Club. … It doesn’t belong in the company especially when the focus in clearly on investing online and winning internationally.”
Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, about the on-again, off-again debate on whether Sam’s Club should become a company separate from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.