A look back: The best and worst of 2022

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 610 views 

Carly Stern, left, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, and Pharrell Williams, the record producer and recording artist, discussed education at the Heartland Summit in May in downtown Bentonville.

Depending on your perspective, the news was good, bad or ugly in 2022. Here are some observations about the news as compiled by our editorial staff, our annual compilation of the “Best and Worst” of 2022.

BEST QUOTE
“This is a very powerful room. There’s a lot of energy in here tonight.”

Famed singer/songwriter and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams made the statement May 11 before a high-level crowd of approximately 300 policymakers, investors, business and thought leaders and entrepreneurs from across the country who were in Bentonville for the Heartland Summit.

The two-day, invitation-only gathering convened that night at the Record with several speakers, including members of the Walton family.

The summit is the signature event of Heartland Forward in Bentonville. Heartland Forward formally launched in the fall of 2019 — one year after the Heartland Summit’s first iteration — and is spearheaded by members of the Walton family and led by former Walton Fellow and Milken Institute Chief Research Officer Ross DeVol. It is the first U.S. think tank focused exclusively on the economic situation of the heartland region.

Organizers said their goal was to promote action by convening people playing a role in the success stories of thriving areas of America’s heartland.

Other attendees who spoke at the summit’s opening night were:

  • María Teresa Kumar, a Colombian American political rights activist and president and CEO of the Latino political organization, Voto Latino.
  • Carmichael Roberts, a partner at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates’ climate finance firm.
  • Kath McLay, CEO of Sam’s Club.
  • Dr. Patrick Conway, the CEO of Care Solutions at Optum at UnitedHealth Group in Massachusetts.
  • Caryl Stern, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, and Williams, the record producer and recording artist, also had a discussion on education.

WORST START TO NFL OWNERSHIP
The NFL is a multibillion-dollar business that dominates the U.S. sports landscape, and the newest team owner has ties to Walmart Inc. and Northwest Arkansas.

The Denver Broncos sold in August for a record $4.65 billion to Rob Walton, the oldest son of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton.

He leads a six-member ownership group that includes:

  • Walmart board chairman Greg Penner and his wife Carrie Walton Penner, Rob Walton’s only daughter
  • Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, board chair of the Starbucks Corp. and a director at JP Morgan Chase
  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
  • Formula 1 racing star Sir Lewis Hamilton

Entering the season, analysts discussed the Broncos as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. But with a 5-12 record — and a grossly underperforming quarterback wrapping up the first year of a five-year, $245 million contract — the new owners’ first season has not gone as planned. There may not be a quick fix in sight, although the Walton-Penner group took a step in that direction on Dec. 26 by firing first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett one day following a calamitous Christmas Day loss (51-14) to the Los Angeles Rams.

It’s worth noting that none of the new owners make Northwest Arkansas their home. But it’s not often that folks with such close ties to the region and its economic engine buy one of only 32 NFL franchises.

BEST SODA SWAP
The University of Arkansas awarded a 10-year contract to Atlanta-based Coca-Cola to be the university’s exclusive non-alcoholic cold beverage sponsor and provider. The deal went into effect July 1.

PepsiCo was the supplier for the previous 10 years. Before that deal, Coca-Cola was the beverage provider for the UA for decades. Along with supplying campus dining facilities and vending machines, all Razorback athletic venues serve Coca-Cola products.

“For decades, fans cheered on the Razorbacks while enjoying a beverage from Coca-Cola,” UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek said. “With this new partnership, students, faculty, staff members and fans will once again have access to a variety of Coca-Cola products whether they are attending class, visiting campus or ‘Calling the Hogs’ at one of our athletics venues.”

BEST BANK (ALMOST) ENTRY
New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. intended to open the region’s first Chase bank branch — the company’s consumer banking division — by the end of 2022 but couldn’t quite make the deadline.

Chase Bank at 608 W. Dickson St. in Fayetteville.

According to company officials, supply chain issues delayed the renovation of a 3,100-square-foot building at 608 W. Dickson St. It was formerly the Fayetteville location for Jonesboro-based outdoor specialty retailer Gearhead Outfitters.

“The new open date is Jan. 10, right after the holidays and as [University of Arkansas] students are returning to campus,” Chase officials said. “We’re looking forward to starting off the New Year with a beautiful new Fayetteville branch.”

BEST TRENDSETTER
Fayetteville-based Signature Bank of Arkansas opened the first dedicated bilingual bank in Arkansas in downtown Rogers. The 3,966-square-foot bank opened Sept. 23 at 114 S. First St.

Fayetteville-based White River Bancshares Co. is the holding company for Signature Bank. Banco Sí, the bank’s bilingual division, is expected to be expanded into Springdale and Siloam Springs. All Banco Sí staff are bilingual, speaking English and Spanish.

WORST RISK CONCERNS
Management of electric vehicle startup Canoo, which has Bentonville operations, has raised concerns about its “ability to continue as a going concern,” according to its three most recent quarterly reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Starting with the first-quarter report released May 10, company management has performed an analysis of the company’s “ability to continue as a going concern and has identified substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

The second- and third-quarter reports released Aug. 8 and Nov. 9, respectively, repeated the previous statement but added the following: “If we are unable to obtain sufficient additional funding or do not have access to capital, we may be required to terminate or significantly curtail our operations.”

Also, the Nov. 9 report shows “we believe that our existing cash resources and additional sources of liquidity are not sufficient to support planned operations, which comprise bringing our lifestyle vehicle to the point of production, for the next 12 months.”

Between March 31 and Sept. 30, the company’s unrestricted cash balance declined from $104.9 million to $6.8 million.

BEST SURPRISED FACE
Kamisha Burlingame, a fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Bentonville, was shocked to learn that she was the winner of the prestigious Milken Educator Award — and reacted accordingly.

Kamisha Burlingame was shocked to learn that she was the winner of the prestigious Milken Educator Award, and reacted accordingly.

Local and state education leaders joined Milken Family Foundation officials to surprise Burlingame with the award at an all-school assembly on April 27. The recognition includes a $25,000 cash prize that Burlingame can use however she chooses.

The Milken Educator Award was founded in 1982 by Lowel Milken, an international property developer regarded as one of America’s most generous philanthropists. He established the award, called the “Oscars of teaching” by Teacher Magazine, to recognize exceptional teachers, and the first award was presented in 1987

Burlingame was among more than 60 educators across the country who received the award during the 2021-22 school year. She is the first-ever recipient from Bentonville Schools.

WORST AND/OR BEST “SORRY, NOT SORRY”
Walmart in November agreed to pay $3.1 billion as part of a nationwide opioid settlement but asserted that it “strongly disputes the allegations in these matters, and this settlement framework does not include any admission of liability.” Not only is the world’s largest retailer wholly pure and innocent, but, gosh, it was just doing everyone a favor in writing such a big check.

The retailer said the settlement “will provide significant aid to communities across the country in the fight against the opioid crisis, with aid reaching state and local governments faster than any other nationwide opioid settlement to date.”

What Walmart did not disclose is how much money the retailer made from opioid prescriptions during the more than 20 years opioid pills were easier to get than sunshine in California.

BEST “WE GOT YOUR BACK”
When it was learned that University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt did not want to hire interim University of Arkansas Chancellor Dr. Charles Robinson as the next chancellor, 12 former UA student body presidents decided to speak up. They sent a letter to the UA Board of Trustees asking them to reject Bobbitt’s wishes and go with Robinson.

University of Arkansas Chancellor Dr. Charles Robinson.

“We appreciate the patience and diligence of the search committee with what is a decision that deserves great care. Sometimes, though, hard questions have easy answers. Dr. Robinson is that answer,” noted an excerpt from the letter.

Turns out, it was an easy answer. The UA board on Nov. 16 voted unanimously to give the gig to Robinson, who is the first Black chancellor at the state’s flagship campus.

WORST “VOTING” DECISION
After Sebastian County election officials and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith officials spent much time and energy crafting a plan for a voting site on the campus, Sebastian County Election Commissioner Cara Gean nixed the idea without explanation. She refused to talk to the media and refused to cooperate with UAFS, a leading regional institution. UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley on Sept. 7 rescinded her offer for a voting site after Gean’s surprise vote and unwillingness to explain the vote.

Sebastian Election Commissioner Lee Webb said Gean is not interested in making it easy for college students and faculty to vote.

“The only reason, logically, that you’d vote no on that is because you wanted to suppress votes. I mean, it wasn’t affecting other polling sites, and it had the potential to get votes from them, from the youth and students, who normally don’t vote. That’s our lowest voting demographic, and we had a really good chance with this [UAFS voting site] to address that,” he said.

BEST WISHES
We journalists are maybe not supposed to admit we like some folks, but it’s hard to not like Kelly Kemp-McLintock, Jerry Vest and Gary Mickelson.

Kemp-McLintock, chief advancement officer for Springdale nonprofit The Jones Center, retired earlier this year. The organization announced May 25 her planned departure. She was the organization’s chief fundraiser since 2004, following a long television career.

Vest, a Rogers bank executive, retired Aug. 31 as Regions Bank’s top Northwest Arkansas market executive. Vest, 68, worked for Regions Bank in various positions in Fort Smith and Rogers since May 1976. An Arkansas native, he went right to work after graduating with a finance degree from the University of Oklahoma. He was a four-year letterman and scholarship basketball player for the Sooners.

Mickelson (pronounced Michaelson) retired in early July as senior director of public relations at Springdale-based Tyson Foods, ending a 35-year career on the communications side of the meatpacking industry.

Through good and bad news, Kelly, Jerry and Gary were always professional and courteous in how they dealt with the media. We wish them great success with what’s next in their respective worlds.

BEST JOBS IN NORTHWEST ARKANSAS
The top six executives for Bentonville-based Walmart earned a combined $60.31 million in 2021, down from $70.61 million earned the year before. Stock awards, which is deferred income, was substantially higher for a few top execs and cash incentive pay was up for all.

CEO Doug McMillon had total compensation of $25.67 million in 2021, up 13.7% from the prior year, according to a proxy filing made public in early 2022 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

McMillon’s pay — to include salary, deferred compensation and other benefits — is a little more than $70,000 a day.