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Beth Ward, a fixture on Little Rock television for more than 37 years, died Thursday after complications from heart surgery.

Ward's death was reported by KTHV, Channel 11, where she had hosted the noon newscast, which she helped to launch in 1987 as "Arkansas Today," and morning show. She was also widely known for her weather reporting and for hosting "Dialing for Dollars" on KARK, Channel 4, where she began her television career in 1968. 

KTHV noted the heart ailment complications on its website. Her age wasn't readily available. 

At the time of her retirement in 2005, she had been on Arkansas television longer than any other personality in the market. "The longtime TV icon's career included interviews with doctors, politicians and more," KTHV said, noting that many Arkansans "grew up watching Beth."

Chris May, anchor at KATV, Channel 7, was one of those. 

"I remember as a kid watching her on 'Dialing for Dollars,' hoping and praying she would call my home phone asking for the count and amount," May said. 

More seriously, May said Ward was a trend-setter as a woman on local TV news. 

"First and foremost, Beth blazed a trail for women in Arkansas television," he said. "She proved in the late 60s and throughout the 1970s that you didn't have to be a man to attract an audience in broadcasting."

Former Little Rock anchor Amy Barnes, now a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, agreed. 

"I'm grateful to Beth and all the women (Liz Walker, Deborah Mathis) who blazed the trail into that 'man's world' for me and many more," she said. "We owe them all a huge debt and a heartfelt thank-you."

A Virginia native who attended William & Mary College, Ward spent her entire career and retirement years in Arkansas, and said in her retirement announcement that she had had a "long and rewarding ride" in television. "But recently I found a stop and want to get off."

In an obituary that she wrote for herself for Little Rock Funeral Home, Ward wrote lovingly of her family and faith in Christ, but also mentioned her career as part of a "life full of blessings."

"I must mention one… my career in television. It was so enjoyable. Meeting so many wonderful people, being around friends, gaining knowledge daily and watching that ever-changing weather forecast. It was a terrific 37 years."

She said her husband of 43 years, Dr. Charles R. Haynie, who died in May, had given her "years of happiness, love, protection and wisdom." She is survived by four children, Bracy Haynie of Nashville, Tennessee; Sarah Haynie Clark of Novato, California; Sherri Lindsey of Van Buren; and Andy Ward of Ripon, California; as well as seven grandchildren.

Mark Raines of Little Rock advertising agency CJRW noted that he was Ward's last news director at KTHV, and that when he saw her about six months ago, she gave him a hug.

"The viewers loved her because of her smooth style and professionalism," Raines said. "Beth's character and personality were consistent – the Beth Ward you saw on the air was the Beth Ward you saw off the air. A fixture on Arkansas television for almost 40 years, she paved the way for women in this market."

The funeral is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.

WASHINGTON — A healthy increase in home values and higher stock prices drove up U.S. household wealth in the July-September quarter, though the gains are largely concentrated among wealthier Americans.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that real estate values increased $554 billion in the third quarter, while Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios rose $494 billion. Total household wealth, which includes checking and savings accounts and subtracts mortgages and other debt, increased 1.8 percent to $90.2 trillion.

The rise suggests that Americans' finances are improving, with more families building equity in their homes. Greater wealth can encourage more spending and boost economic growth. Stock prices have soared to new record levels since the election, which means household net worth is likely higher now.

Still, national wealth isn't widely shared, which limits the benefits of any increase. The wealthiest 1 percent held 42 percent of the nation's wealth in 2012, the latest data available, according to research published earlier this year by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California-Berkeley.

The rise in the wealth gap mirrors the widening of income inequality in the past several decades. The top 0.1 percent of Americans, which consists of about 160,000 taxpayers worth more than $20 million, owned 22 percent of national wealth in 2012, up from just 7 percent in 1978, Saez's research found.

According to a paper released earlier this week by Saez, Zucman and Thomas Piketty, the richest 1 percent of Americans derive more than half their income from capital assets such as homes, stocks and bonds, as well as their share of pension savings.

The bottom 90 percent of Americans earn less than 20 percent of their income from capital, most of that in the form of pension fund savings.

U.S. household wealth fell sharply in the Great Recession as home prices and financial markets plummeted, wiping out more than $11 trillion in asset values. Net worth fell to $56 trillion in 2008.

Since then, stock prices have reached record levels, a boon to richer households. The 10 percent wealthiest households own 80 percent of stocks.

But home prices began rising in 2012 and by some measures have fully recovered from their collapse in the housing bust. That's helped more Americans' finances. U.S. households' ownership equity reached 57.2 percent of the value of their homes, the highest since 2006, the Fed said.

Rising home equity also encourages more Americans to sell their homes, which increases the number of available houses and could boost sales. Home sales have been restrained in recent years by unusually low levels of properties on the market.

The rise in home prices has helped repair the housing market, according to data from CoreLogic, a real estate data provider. Just 6.3 percent of homes with a mortgage were "under water" in the July-September quarter, meaning the homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth. That is down from 26 percent in 2009 and 8.4 percent a year ago.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

LITTLE ROCK - In an effort to produce workers who can either navigate a computer keyboard or wield an acetylene torch, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday suggested a way for high school graduates, home-school graduates and non-traditional students to learn skills without paying a dime.

Hutchinson said his legislative agenda for 2017 would include the Arkansas Future Grant program, targeting at students interested in high-demand, high-paying fields. He cited computer coding and welding, while state Higher Education Director Maria Markham said funding could be found for any field where there is a local need.

"Those are just a couple of examples," Markham said. The state's Division of Workforce Services would produce a list of hot jobs from each region of the state and education officials would in turn target students. "It will be unique to each two-year college what credentials are covered, but it will certainly be very broad," she said.

Other grants and Arkansas' lottery scholarship might cover only part of a student's tuition and fees, leading some to give up their chance for a post-high school education, Hutchinson said. The new program offers them a greater assurance, he said.

Only about 1 in 5 Arkansans has a college degree, and Hutchinson said Thursday that only about 43 percent of the state's residents have earned any degree or certificate after high school. He hopes to push the mark to 60 percent by 2025 - and believes this plan would help by imposing a three-year residency requirement for anyone who completes the program.

"This is common sense. The goal is to meet the growing economic needs of our state in high-need areas," he said. "We want them to not be trained in Arkansas and go to Silicon Valley."

Waivers would be available for special circumstances, such as family needs or a desire to pursue a bachelor's degree, the governor said. "The key is that they are not abandoning the state," Hutchinson said.

If lawmakers agree, Arkansas would provide two years of tuition and fees at community or technical colleges not covered by other grants and scholarships. Hutchinson said the state will be able to support it by tapping the $8.2 million currently set aside for its GO! And Workforce Improvement Grant programs that require less student accountability.

The GO! Program has a 77 percent dropout rate, while the WIG program doesn't have a payback requirement.

To take part in the "ArFuture" program, students must perform eight hours of community service per semester and also meet with a mentor monthly.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock announced Wednesday that its company, LiveRamp of San Francisco, has closed on its acquisition of marketing startups Arbor of New York City and Circulate of Philadelphia.

The company announced on Nov. 17 that it would acquire the startups for about $140 million and issue $50 million of Acxiom stock awards replacing unvested equity.

But another $20 million worth of stock awards will be issued to 40 new hired and non-executive employees to persuade them to stay with the company, according to Acxiom's most recent Securities & Exchange Commission filing. That brings the total awards the company is issuing to about $70 million.

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale is well-positioned for growth driven by a focus on investing in new technologies, and acquisitions are a possibility, incoming CEO Tom Hayes said Wednesday at the Bernstein Consumer Summit in New York.

"One of the things I think you'll see differently from us in the future than in the past is a more proactive approach to sustainability," he said. "Be prepared for some great new products to be hitting the market ... Don't be surprised if we pull in an acquisition or two."

That strategy includes a focus on things that are attractive to both retailers and end consumers, he said.

"One of the things that we really want to make sure that we're on the front of our feet with is looking at new technologies, technologies that are going to play well with our strategy," Hayes said. Tyson recently launched a $150 million Venture Capital Fund to funnel all the innovative legwork to one team, he added.

Early in the interview-style presentation, Hayes was asked whether an acquisition would give Tyson more of an advantage in the antibiotic-free protein space. 

"We're always open to acquisitions," he said, and added that Tyson is making "exceptional progress" toward its goal of making all its products free of antibiotics "important to human health" by the end of 2017.

More: Hayes talks to Arkansas Business in this week's Exec Q&A.

Hayes came to Tyson Foods after the company purchased Hillshire Brands Co. of Chicago for $8.5 billion in 2014. There, he was chief supply chain officer, responsible for operations including procurement, manufacturing, food safety and quality, engineering, and logistics. Before that, he was senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for Sara Lee North America. 

When questioned about the success of Tyson's Hillshire acquisition, Hayes said, "We're well-positioned, ready to do another Hillshire-sized acquisition again if it was available."

Hayes said the company's pre-tax return on investment capital is back up to 18 percent, and it was a little more than 20 percent before Hillshire was acquired.

He also said Tyson returned $1.7 billion in cash to shareholders through stock buyback and bumped its dividend by 50 percent last year and this year. It's at 90 cents for 2017, and the board has committed to an annual growth of at least 10 cents.  

Hayes, already the company's president, will add the CEO title on Jan. 1. He said 2016 was a good year overall and the company expects its first quarter of the 2016-2017 fiscal year to be a "phenomenal" start.

"We see the first quarter of our fiscal year this year as being the best quarter Tyson's had in its history," Hayes said.

He said the company is seeing its beef and pork segments at above-average profit margins. The other two segments, chicken and prepared foods, are within an expected range.

Asked about a shift in consumer demand for fresh over frozen meet, Hayes called fresh meat a "huge growth driver" but said there has also been growth in frozen food.

He also described the success of the company's "Tyson Tastemakers" meal kits as "so far, so good."

Hayes also decried coverage of the Georgia Dock poultry prices. Georgia's Department of Agriculture is requiring poultry companies to submit weekly price affidavits that will be used to calculate the industry benchmark price.

The action comes as a response to an ongoing class action lawsuit against Tyson Foods and other companies that alleges price fixing since 2008.

Hayes said only 3 or 4 percent of Tyson's goods are priced that way and "it's really become sort of sensationalized to a degree. We view those [allegations] as an attack on our integrity as a company."

He said the same about the lawsuit, and noted that Tyson has a strong defense. The company has signed an affidavit saying its prices have been clear and accurate in the past and will be so into the future, Hayes said.  

WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans signed up for unemployment benefits last week, another sign the U.S. job market remains healthy.

THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly claims for jobless aid slid by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000. The less-volatile four-week average rose by 1,000 to 252,500. Overall, 2.01 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 10 percent from a year ago.

THE TAKEAWAY: Claims have come in below 300,000 for 92 straight weeks, longest such streak since 1970 when the population and labor force were much smaller. The applications are a proxy for layoffs, and the low numbers suggest that employers are hanging onto their workers and that most Americans enjoy job security. "Firms know how hard it is to find qualified staff, so they are reluctant to let people go unless they have no choice," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

KEY DRIVERS: The job market is robust. The Labor Department reported last week that the economy generated a solid 178,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate dropped to a nine-year low 4.6 percent. But joblessness rate fell largely because so many Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas' highest court on Thursday threw out a judge's ruling that could have allowed married same-sex couples to get the names of both spouses on their children's birth certificates without a court order, saying it doesn't violate equal protection "to acknowledge basic biological truths."

The state Supreme Court also issued a rare admonishment to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, saying he made "inappropriate remarks" in his ruling that struck down the birth certificate law. Fox had cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage in his ruling last year that said married same-sex couples should have both names listed on their children's birth certificates, just as heterosexual married couples do, without requiring a court order.

In the high court's decision Thursday, justices sided with the Arkansas Attorney General's Office saying Arkansas has a vested interest in listing biological parents on birth certificates.

More: Click here to read the complete ruling.

"The question presented in this case does not concern either the right to same-sex marriage or the recognition of that marriage, or the right of a female same-sex spouse to be a parent to the child who was born to her spouse," Justice Josephine Linker Hart wrote in the court's majority opinion. "What is before this court is a narrow issue of whether the birth-certificate statutes as written deny the appellees due process. ... In the situation involving the female spouse of a biological mother, the female spouse does not have the same biological nexus to the child that the biological mother or the biological father has. It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths."

Cheryl Maples, who sued on behalf of three same-sex couples, said she hasn't decided yet whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The three couples who sued were allowed to amend their children's birth certificates last year under a ruling issued by Fox.

"There's no requirement that DNA be given or that there be a biological relationship to a child to get on a birth certificate for a father, for the non-birth parent," she said. "All you have to do is legitimize the child and you're entitled, if you're heterosexual. This is wrong."

A spokesman for Arkansas' attorney general says the office was still reviewing the court's decision.

Associate Justice Paul Danielson dissented and Justice Rhonda Wood concurred in part and dissented in part.

"There can be no reasonable dispute that the inclusion of a parent's name on a child's birth certificate is a benefit associated with and flowing from marriage," Danielson wrote, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage "requires that this benefit be accorded to same-sex spouses and opposite-sex spouses with equal force."

The birth certificate issue was the first major case surrounding gay marriage for the Arkansas court since an unusually public split among justices last year over its handling of a lawsuit over Arkansas' same-sex marriage ban. The court dismissed the gay marriage lawsuit hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Don't you love it when you get all ready for a party, and at the last minute it gets canceled? 

Although the new overtime exemption rules were not going to be a "party" for employers by any stretch of the imagination, many felt perplexed when a Texas judge pulled the rug out from under the Department of Labor days before the new overtime exemption rule was to go into effect and after many employers had spent months preparing to comply. 

Without going into too much detail, the judge decided that the new rule's salary level (which more than doubled the level set over ten years ago) went too far and exceeded the level of authority normally given to the Department of Labor to interpret the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

The judge believed that Congress "defined the [white collar] exemption with regard to duties, which does not include a minimum salary level," and that the new rule's salary level supplanted the duties test. 

Here's the key portion of the judge's ruling:

"The broad purpose of 213(a)(1) was to exempt from overtime those engaged in executive, administrative, and professional capacity duties. Since the FLSA was enacted, the Department has promulgated regulations to define and delimit the EAP exemption. To be exempt from overtime, the regulations require an employee to (1) have EAP duties; (2) be paid on a salary basis; and (3) meet a minimum salary level. The Final Rule raises the salary level from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually). The salary level was purposefully set low to 'screen out the obviously nonexempt employees, making an analysis of duties in such cases unnecessary.'  . . . The Department has admitted that it cannot create an evaluation 'based on salary alone.'  . . . But this significant increase to the salary level creates essentially a de facto salary-only test. . . . Congress did not intend salary to categorically exclude an employee with EAP duties from the exemption."

Basically, the judge saw the new salary level as "the tail wagging the dog."  

So, what now? 

If you have already planned to transition some of your employees from exempt to non-exempt or increase wages for some to meet the new salary level, and you have already talked to your employees about it, think about going through with it for a couple of reasons. 

First, it is entirely possible the Texas judge's ruling will be overturned in whole or part since the Department of Labor has appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Do you really want to back out of the transition at the last moment, only to have to restart it? 

Second, it's entirely possible President-elect Trump and the Republican Congress will enact a change to the Fair Labor Standards Act in early 2017; it's even possible (although not probable) President Obama and the current Congress could agree on some type of alteration, like a gradual phase-in period for the new salary level. Why not make the planned transition and then see how things play out in the next four-to-six months? 

Once things are finalized — either through the appellate process or a new law — you can decide whether to maintain the post-transition status for your employees.

Remember, the "default" rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act is that everyone is eligible for overtime unless a specific exemption applies. Assuming you have no issues with employees working off-the-clock and you calculate overtime rates correctly, paying hourly wages and making employees overtime eligible (the route a lot of employers were taking to comply with the new rules) will help insulate your business from wage and hour claims.

Attorney Stuart Jackson heads up the Labor & Employment Law team at Wright Lindsey Jennings in Little Rock. You can email him here and see this post on the WLJ website.

MEXICO CITY/ CHICAGO - Retailer Wal-Mart de Mexico said on Wednesday it will invest $1.3 billion in logistics in Latin America's No. 2 economy, in what is perceived as a show of commitment to Mexico at a time of uncertainty after the election of Donald Trump.

The investment in Mexico will not result in any jobs being moved from the United States, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jo Warner told Reuters.

"The investment is funded by Walmex and is necessary for expansion of Wal-Mart's Mexican business," she said.

Warner did not comment on whether Wal-Mart had heard from Trump after it made the announcement in Mexico. She said the investment is not the same as companies moving jobs to Mexico.

Recently, United Technologies Corp.'s Carrier unit decided to keep half of the 2,100 Indiana jobs it was to shift to Mexico after the U.S. president-elect worked out an agreement with the company's CEO, Gregory Hayes.

The election has thrown Mexico's business world into uncertainty, as Trump has attacked U.S. companies investing south of the border and threatened to renegotiate or scrap a major trade agreement with Mexico.

A large part of Wal-Mart's investment will be over the next three years, including in back-end infrastructure, said the company's chief executive, Guilherme Loureiro. He said it would create some 10,000 permanent new jobs.

"It will involve the building of new distribution centers, as well as the expansion of ones we already have," he said at an event with President Enrique Pena Nieto at the president's office.

Loureiro said the company had already invested 80 billion pesos ($3.93 billion) in the past four years.

Wal-Mart has been looking to double sales in Mexico by 2024 by boosting its core business of running discount retail and membership stores, and expanding its fresh food business.

In August it sold its Suburbia clothing chain to El Puerto De Liverpool for about $852 million in order to streamline operations in the country.

At Wal-Mart's shareholder meeting in June, David Cheesewright, head of the overseas division, singled out the Mexican market as a top priority. Mexico has Wal-Mart's largest number of stores outside the United States.

Wal-Mart has struggled in overseas markets, including Britain and China, but Walmex has remained a bright spot with third-quarter revenue growing 10.8 percent to 126.86 billion pesos ($6.25 billion).

Video the Announcement (in Spanish)

The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs announced Tuesday that the Oaklawn Foundation has awarded it a $300,000 grant for construction of a planned $4.5 million, 20,000-SF Creativity and Innovation Complex.

The school said the donation is the largest single gift in its history. The complex would be the first new academic building on campus since it opened in 1993.

The complex will have classroom and workspace for computer science and digital arts courses and an assembly space.

ASMSA joined the University of Arkansas system in 2004, and its board of trustees recently selected Harris Architects of Hot Springs to design the complex. Construction is set to start in mid-2017, with the opening expected at the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester.

The Oaklawn Foundation receives funding each year from Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs for programs and scholarships that benefit Garland County students and senior citizens.

"The board understands the mission and the goals of this school; they agree with it," foundation board member Larry Stephens said in a news release. "They see that it has not only succeeded but exceeded [in] its goals. We felt like the future of this school is now. We felt like we wanted to be a part of the future, and we think what you’re doing is the future."

ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice said the Oaklawn Foundation's work has been "transformational" in the lives of many in Garland County. 

"Their support sets the stage not only for the continued evolution of ASMSA's campus but also is another step in the revitalization of downtown Hot Springs," he said.

The school is the state's only public residential high school specializing in the education of academically gifted juniors and seniors from across Arkansas. This year, students from 51 of Arkansas' 75 counties are attending.

The Oaklawn Foundation grant is the latest of several gifts and grants supporting construction of the new complex.

The Dan Fredinburg Foundation made a $50,000 gift in the name of Dan Fredinburg, a 1999 ASMSA alumnus. Fredinburg was the head of privacy for Google X, the research and development facility for Google, when he died in 2015.

More than $100,000 has been raised since the Fredinburg Foundation's gift was announced in April.

ASMSA has also received a $500,000 General Improvement Fund grant last year from Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The school said most of that will cover architect and engineering fees, with any leftover money going to construction.

Christen Cazort Franke, an owner and operator with her family of Franke's Cafeteria in Little Rock, died Dec. 4. She was 37.

The family business was founded by C.A. Franke, who opened a doughnut store in 1919, according to the company website. The first Franke's Cafeteria was opened in 1924, and the restaurant is considered an Arkansas institution. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture says that Franke's is likely the oldest restaurant in the state.

Christen Franke was born May 15, 1979, in Little Rock, and after attending college, she became the manager of Franke's Cafeteria.

"She worked side by side with her beloved parents, William and Carolyn Franke, in continuing on the tradition of providing food served with love to the community," said her obituary, which can be read here.

Christen Franke was a Little Rock Soirée Woman to Watch in 2014. In her profile, Franke said: "I was 15 my first day working at Franke's. I have had many other jobs and have pursued many other dreams, but I always came back. I always knew this restaurant was my home, my heart."

In addition to her parents, she is survived by her sister, Kathryn Franke Kitchens, wife of Kevin Kitchens; and her niece, Katelyn, and nephew, Andrew.

Christen Franke had planned to marry Daniel Christakos on Jan. 14.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at St. James United Methodist Church, 321 Pleasant Valley Drive, Little Rock.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in her honor to the Humane Society of Pulaski County.

Gary Rickenbach's emotional request was granted: The former One Bank & Trust executive was sentenced Wednesday to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service in exchange for pleading guilty to failing to report a crime.

The sentencing by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker concluded the prosecution of bankers who worked for the late Layton "Scooter" Stuart, who was ultimately removed from the control of the Little Rock bank he owned before his death in March 2013.

Of four bankers charged in connection with a fraudulent $1.5 million loan, only Rickenbach was convicted. Charges against former CFO Tom Whitehead were dropped in exchange for his testimony against the other two, Mike Heald and Brad Paul, who were acquitted after a three-week trial in October.

Only the borrower, a Canadian resident of Florida named Alberto Solaroli, was sent to prison. He was sentenced to a year and a day after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of money laundering.

Wednesday's sentencing hearing was perfunctory until Rickenbach, sniffling and pausing frequently, described to Baker a "very long and tough journey" since he "made what I thought was a well-secured loan" in 2007.

He said he had been embarrassed by the "abject failure" of a loan to someone he subsequently learned was "a con man," and he took improper steps to try to mitigate that lending error. (He did not mention the fact that he had personally invested in Solaroli's company before shepherding the loan through the bank.)

Rickenbach said he had "asked myself a hundred times" why he didn't take the "easy and correct" course of simply writing off the loan. Instead, he and others at the bank refinanced the loan with new loans and collateral owned by Stuart, and the bank's loss was limited. But Rickenbach looked the other way when Stuart submitted a call report to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. indicating that the loan was merely past due when the bank had already sought and received a court judgment for the amount in Florida. That was the crime to which he pleaded guilty, technically called misprision of a felony.

Rickenbach apologized to his former coworkers and to Dr. Jim Pappas and Paul Berry, the outside directors of the bank who were left to clean up the mess. He also apologized to his wife and two children. 

"Every time there was another article in the paper, my family paid for it," he said.

The probationary sentence was what Rickenbach had hoped for when he offered in November 2015 to plead guilty to misprision, but Baker rejected that conditional plea. On Wednesday, she calculated the guideline sentence for his crime at between eight and 14 months in federal prison, and the federal prosecutor, First U.S. Assistant Attorney Patrick Harris, asked her to cut it in half in exchange for Rickenbach's testimony against Heald and Paul.

Rickenbach's defense attorney, Bill James of Little Rock, had filed a sentencing memorandum suggesting that probation — which the prosecution had agreed to in the original plea deal — was still appropriate, and Harris took no position on that request.

In granting the probationary sentence, Judge Baker pointed out that she had "sat through a lengthy trial" — that of Heald and Paul — since rejecting the original plea deal and now considered it to be an appropriate sentence in Rickenbach's case.

Heald's attorney, Gary Corum of Little Rock, filed a motion last week seeking to have the federal government pay his attorney's fees on the grounds that the prosecution of Heald was frivolous.

Former Acxiom Corp. CEO Charles Morgan has given $300,000 to the University of Central Arkansas.

The Conway university announced the donation at a news conference Wednesday.

"UCA has made major contributions to the business community through their graduates, and I wanted to show my appreciation and help ensure that this contribution continues," Morgan said in a news release.

The money will create the Charles D. Morgan Endowed Chair of Computer Science Fund, which will support and recruit faculty in the computer science and technology fields. The money will also expand UCA's computer science offerings. Right now, students can earn a bachelor of science in computer science and a master of science in applied computing.

"We are grateful for Charles Morgan's generous gift in support of our efforts in computer science," Dr. Stephen Addison, dean of College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said in a news release. "The support of our local partners in the IT industry is vital to the ongoing development of our programs in computer science and is mutually beneficial to our partners."

On Monday, UCA received $300,000 from Southwestern Energy Co. of Houston to support undergraduate and graduate student research through a new endowed fund that bears the utility’s name.

LITTLE ROCK - The Obama administration has given Arkansas permission to impose a number of restrictions in its Medicaid program at the start of the new year, saying the state can charge premiums to some recipients and require that certain recipients look for a job, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday.

About 1 in every 10 Arkansans - those in the lowest income brackets - take part in an expanded Medicaid program under which the state uses federal Medicaid dollars to buy private health insurance. It had been known as the "private option," but will be operated as "Arkansas Works" beginning Jan. 1.

While the White House shifts Democratic and Republican hands Jan. 20, Arkansas residents on the program needed to know as early as possible about new conditions being placed on their benefits, the governor said.

"We wanted to go ahead to do this because we have 300,000 Arkansans who have a cliff Jan. 1 and we wanted to make sure they have a comfort level that their health care is going to continue with these reforms in place," Hutchinson told reporters at the Capitol following a news conference held to name members of the state's Medical Marijuana Commission. The governor said he expected to receive formal notification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a letter Wednesday.

He said Arkansas didn't receive all of the accommodations it sought and would return to Washington after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in six weeks to seek changes for employer-sponsored health insurance plans and add more stringent work requirements. Those changes, the governor said, would be at least six to nine months away.

Arkansas received permission to impose premiums on Medicaid recipients who those earning more than the federal poverty level. Some recipients will be asked for a co-payment, a portion of a health professional's fee, and the state will be able to refer unemployed beneficiaries for job training.

The governor said the federal government approved only part of Arkansas' plan to provide incentives to employers to move people off Medicaid and into work-sponsored health insurance plans. Incentives will be restricted to businesses that are just starting their own programs.

"We will have fewer employers that will try to make a switch (without an incentive) because it will ultimately cost them money when you have some of your workers on Medicaid," Hutchinson said.

While Trump and several congressional leaders have promised to gut President Barack Obama's health care plan, known derisively as "Obamacare," Hutchinson said the Medicaid expansion it provided for could remain if states were just given funds without strings attached.

"If you give us the federal dollars right now for the Medicaid program and give us the flexibility to administer it, then we would be able to keep the Medicaid expansion with more constraints and more cost-sharing with more work requirements," he said. "We cannot have an unlimited, unpredictable future in terms of the costs to the state."

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Jonathan Dismang and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam announced Wednesday five appointments to the new Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. 

They are:

  • Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer treatment at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is also co-director of Cancer Control and Population Sciences for the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and was appointed earlier this year to serve on the state's Breast Cancer Control Advisory Board through 2020. 
  • Dr. Stephen J. Carroll of Benton, COO of Allcare Correctional Pharmacy in Arkadelphia.
  • Attorney Travis W. Story of Fayetteville, the founder of Story Law Firm, who practices bankruptcy, civil law, property law, business planning, estate planning and church law. He also owns Pinnacle One, which creates commercials for political campaigns and content for churches that need legal resources.
  • James Miller of Bryant, owner and CEO of public affairs firm James Miller & Associates in Little Rock. Miller previously served as Dismang's chief of staff and as chief legislative officer under former Gov. Mike Beebe. 
  • Dr. J. Carlos Roman of Little Rock, a pain management specialist. 

The governor appointed Henry-Tillman. Gillam appointed Carroll and Story. Dismang appointed Miller and Roman. 

The commission will administer and regulate the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in Arkansas as laid out by the state constitutional amendment voters approved in November. Its first meeting must be called within 15 days, according to the amendment.

The commission must also begin accepting applications for dispensaries by June, and will be working with the state Department of Finance and Administration in its dealings with businesses.

Up and Running

During the news conference, the governor and legislators talked about the process of setting up the medical marijuana program, which will issue licenses for a limited number of marijuana dispensaries and growers.

Hutchinson said he'd like to see a lottery system like the one the state uses to award alcohol permits. He said the state has experience with such a system, which he said is fair and could prevent big businesses from taking over the new industry.

The governor said the commission has 120 days to develop regulations and has a lot of work to do. Asked if he'd want to give the commission more time, the governor said that while his administration would not slow the process, it wants to get it right, and not rush it either. 

The Legislature could tweak the law with a three-fourths vote, but Gillam said it was too early to say whether any changes would be made during the legislative session that begins next month.

At least one lawmaker has already filed a bill that would delay the launch of the program. A proposal by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, would give state agencies until early May, rather than early March, to adopt rules for the program. It also would delay the deadline to begin accepting dispensary applications to July 1.

An open question is how the incoming Trump administration will treat marijuana, which remains prohibited by federal law. Hutchinson, who campaigned against medical marijuana, said that until President-elect Donald Trump's marijuana policy becomes clear, he would implement "the will of the people."

Hutchinson said he's known Trump's nominee for attorney general, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., since the 1980s and planned to speak to Sessions about medical marijuana and other issues after his appointment is confirmed.

Hutchinson called the commission members, who did not attend the news conference, a "very balanced" group. By the law, commissioners must have no entanglement in the new marijuana industry.

Hutchinson, Gillam and Dismang were asked how their respective appointees voted on the medical marijuana amendment. Only Dismang answered, saying both his nominees voted against it. 

Video of the Governor's News Conference

MOUNTAIN HOME - Ron Pierce, the founder of Bass Cat Boats and a former member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has died after battling a long illness. He was 81.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says Pierce died Sunday. Pierce's son, Rick Pierce, confirmed the death and said in a statement that his father "was a great man who cared about people more than most anything."

Ron Pierce and his wife, Jan, founded Bass Cat in their two-car garage in 1971. The company makes fishing boats and now employs more than 100 workers at its Mountain Home headquarters.

Pierce was born in Nowata, Oklahoma.

He served as Mountain Home's mayor from 1976 to 1986 and on the Game and Fish Commission from 2006 to 2013.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Clean Harbors unveiled Tuesday the $120 million expansion of its El Dorado facility, which it said will create 120 full-time jobs.

The company said it added a third commercial hazardous waste incinerator, the first to come online in nearly 20 years, to the 370-acre facility, which specializes in high-temperature destruction of hazardous and non-hazardous materials. It brings the facility's capacity to about 160,000 tons each year from 90,000 tons previously.

Clean Harbors received three incentives through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission:

  • Advantage Arkansas, which provides an income tax credit equal to 2 percent of the annual payroll from the new jobs created.  

  • A $900,000 Community Development Block Grant for infrastructure improvements related to the expansion.

  • $400,000 for training.

AEDC Director Mike Preston attended a news conference marking the opening of the expansion, and said the new jobs would pay an average wage of $22 an hour, generating about $13.7 million in payroll. 

Ron Hines, senior vice president of U.S. incineration operations for Clean Harbors, told Arkansas Business that entry-level workers earn the $22 wage, with hourly rates topping out at $29. He said the company had already filled 90 of the new jobs and would fill the remaining 30 based on the facility's growth. 

Preston said the $120 million is "no small investment. Any time a company spends upwards of $30 million dollars, that shows that they have a vote of confidence in the community; they have a vote of confidence in the state."

CEO Alan McKim called it the "world's most advanced incinerator" and said it would help the company protect the environment for future generations.

The incinerator's air emissions control technology also meets the most stringent Federal Clean Air Act standards, Clean Harbors said.

The permitting process took two years, and another two years were needed for construction, so Tuesday marked the culmination of a four-year project and the largest single capital infusion into a facility in the company's 36-year history.

With the expansion, the El Dorado facility now employs 375 people, including engineers, maintenance mechanics, welders, pipe fitters, hydraulics operators, drivers and industrial service technicians, according to a news release.

Hines said the new hires include those controlling the computer systems that run the incinerator, outside operators that monitor valve and control system, maintenance people, electricians, forklift drivers and facility technicians.

He said the company expanded because it needed additional capacity to meet growing demand in the market.

"We started with looking at all of our states and locations and evaluation. We did a whole checklist of questions ... The location that best fit the needs of growth and opportunity was El Dorado. We had really good employees," Hines said. "It's employees were very proactive about growth and opportunity. Then, also, the local site's relationship to the county, the city and the county and to the local representives; it's just a good relationship and everybody worked well together. The state came back with an economic proposal and everything tied together with that. It was a good opportunity for everybody."

He said El Dorado being a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star Site was a plus too. 

Hines said the site in El Dorado now has the largest capacity of the company's other five incinerator sites. Clean Harbors has more than 50 facilities permitted to treat hazardous waste. It has more than 250 locations, including sites that collect waste or perform other services for customers. 

It's that time. Shopping and spending are at their peak for the year and that puts identity thieves on high alert. While many consumers are aware of the threat to their personal proprietary information, businesses often are not. 

With an increasing number of businesses operating online in addition to traditional means, it is critical that consumers and business owners know how to protect themselves from identity theft and fraud. Fraud not only can ruin the holiday shopping experience, it can have disastrous and long-lasting effects for a business long after the holidays have passed. Even if your company doesn't conduct retail business online, it is important to protect your private business information and data. December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month, so take these additional precautions to safeguard your confidential information:

  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, and business credit or debit cards you need.
  • Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place, such as a safe or locked file cabinet that only you can access.
  • Before you share information with vendors, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.
  • Protect your company documents. Shred receipts, credit applications and offers, insurance forms, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and similar documents when you don't need them any longer.
  • Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall on all company computers. Set your preference to update these protections often.
  • Don't open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don't know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.
  • Before you send your business information via your laptop or smartphone over a public wireless network in a public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
  • Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don't use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you're finished.

For more extensive information on privacy and identity protection, visit and look for the "Tips & Advice" tab. If you’re interested in fraud prevention services for your business that includes theft resolution and account monitoring services, Arvest offers ACH Fraud Block and ChecXchange® with some of its business services. To learn more, visit and select Fraud Prevention under the "Business" tab. 

LITTLE ROCK - Members of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission are to be announced.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam are to announce the appointments Wednesday at the state Capital.

The five-member commission is to administer and regulate the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the state. It is to begin accepting applications for the dispensaries by June.

Voters in November passed a state constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, Tourette's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease and hepatitis C.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Murphy Oil Corp. of El Dorado announced late Tuesday that Elisabeth W. Keller has been elected to its board of directors, and that Eugene T. Coleman and Michael K. McFadyen have been made executive vice presidents, effective immediately.

Keller chairs the board of Keller Enterprises LLC, leading a company devoted to investing, farming and philanthropy. Since 2014, she has been president of Inglewood Plantation LLC, overseeing the largest organic farm in Louisiana.

She is also the daughter of Caroline Murphy Keller Winter, who co-founded Murphy Oil in 1950 with her sister Bertie Murphy Deming and her brother Charles H. Murphy Jr., who led the company as president and was later board chairman.

"We are pleased with the addition of Elisabeth to our board," said Claiborne P. Deming, the board chairman and also Keller's cousin. "Her extensive background which focuses mainly on health and environmental issues, both domestically and internationally, will serve Murphy well in the years ahead."

Coleman, formerly executive vice president of Murphy Exploration and Production Co., will now be an EVP of the larger corporation, responsible for all its offshore operations. An engineering graduate of West Virginia University, he started at Murphy Exploration in 2001.

McFadyen, who was the onshore EVP at Murphy Exploration and president of Murphy Oil's Canadian subsidiary, will now head onshore operations for the entire corporation. McFadyen, who earned a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Wyoming, joined Murphy in 2011.

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