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The Friday Wire: Walmart, Ivy Leaguers and 2014 optimism

The pace of housing growth, Obamacare jobs in Rogers and the possibility of a Walmart store on an Ivy League campus are part of the Northwest Arkansas Friday Wire for Dec. 13.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
• International intrigue
Wal-Mart officials have moved fast to create leadership certainty in the retailer’s international division. Just two weeks after saying Walmart International President and CEO Doug McMillon would be the next Wal-Mart Stores President and CEO beginning Feb. 1, the company named David Cheesewright to replace McMillon in the international top spot.

The international division will need stable leadership and a smooth transition to best deal with expected fallout from the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation into Wal-Mart’s international operations. Bribery allegations within the division were first made public in the April 2012.

• Top of the trend?
Home sales in Northwest Arkansas have been impressive for most of 2013, with the number of sales and the prices moderating slightly toward the end of the year. Will that moderation continue into 2014?

If prices don’t moderate, the region will have supported three consecutive years of significant home price increases.

In the past two years median prices have risen 25% in Benton County while they climbed 23.9% in Washington County. Market analysts said smaller inventory levels of new and existing homes and fewer distressed property listing comparisons are helping to fuel the price increase.

ICYMI
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 ...

• Economic optimism, regulatory concerns
Most of the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas business leaders who responded to an informal survey from The City Wire are optimistic about overall economic conditions in 2014, but worry that federal regulations and changes in healthcare will curtail the potential for growth.

• The foreclosure pace
Northwest Arkansas areas differed in their reporting last month with 66 new foreclosure filings in Benton County, up 11% from a year ago. In neighboring Washington County there were 26 new filings, a 53% decline from November 2013.

• Kudos on downtown NWA support
It’s no secret that numerous changes in residential, commercial and traffic patterns during the past several decades have resulted in the decay – if not abandonment – of thousands of downtowns around the U.S.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
$1.211 billion: The value of the 6,667 homes that sold in Benton and Washington counties through 11 months of 2013, according to MountData.com. Sales rose 22% from $990 million a year ago.

29%: The redefault rate for homeowners in Northwest Arkansas who sought mortgage modifications to stem foreclosure since 2009. The national redefault rate is 27% as of Oct. 1.

18.2%: Estimated percentage of Arkansas high school students who smoke.

3.4%: Estimate by IBIS World of how much holiday sales will increase over 2012 levels.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
• Attention for Rogers
Serco has set up four facilities to handle paper applications for Obamacare coverage. Paper forms are mailed to a facility in London, Kentucky, where they are converted to an electronic format and sent to offices in Wentzville, Missouri, Lawton, Oklahoma, and Rogers, a city of 57,000 in northwest Arkansas.

• Ivy League Walmart?
Wal-Mart Stores, which operates 11,098 locations around the world, has opened three locations on college campuses since 2011, according to company spokesperson Deisha Barnett. Ivy League students interviewed for this story overwhelmingly opposed the idea of a Walmart opening up at their schools.

• The first female CEO in the U.S. auto industry
On the brink of failure in late 2008, the U.S. auto industry begged Washington for help. Five years later the industry has been rebuilt and has named it’s first female CEO Mary Barra at General Motors, a second generation autoworker to rise from the factory floor to the executive suite.

WORD ON THE WIRE
“The Walmart supplier market that we work within is expected to grow. As the millennials enter the job market, they will be reinventing the job descriptions needed to manage the ever-changing Walmart business. By 2015 they will represent over 50% of the Walmart supplier jobs.”
– Cameron Smith, CEO and founder of Rogers-based Cameron Smith Associates, on his expectations for the 2014 economy in Northwest Arkansas

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“I have put two homes under contract this week. One of the subdivisions that I represent, Hyde Park, has had tremendous activity in the past two months with both pre-sales and existing homes. I also have four homes waiting for the snow to melt so that I can go list them. In short, the sales climate is hot unlike the weather in Northwest Arkansas.”
– Nicky Dou, executive broker with Keller Williams in Fayetteville, who said the snow and ice in recent days has not slowed her business

“Child abuse cannot hide under the covers. It’s not just a social problem or a medical problem or a public health problem. It’s a community problem and a legal problem and a business problem. No one group has a lock on this issue.”
– Dr. Jerry Jones, at Arkansas Children's Hospital, who is one of 20 board certified physicians in the U.S. on child maltreatment

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