Acxiom Corp. has sold its Little Rock building on East Third Street and is moving its headquarters back to Conway, the company said Friday. Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff purchased the building in the River Market District for $25 million.
An Acxiom news release stated that all Little Rock employees will remain with the company and will either work from home or at a yet-to-be determined site in Little Rock. They also could join the Conway campus, which will accommodate about 1,500 employees. The complex is the company's largest with nearly a dozen buildings.
An inside source confirmed that about 100 employees were left working at the River Market District building that first opened in 2003 to hold around 600 people.
Acxiom President and CEO Scott Howe said in the release that the move "will provide all central Arkansas associates with a more collaborative environment to work together and meet the needs of our global client base." The release said that the company plans to continue renovations at the Conway campus.
Acxiom, a data broker and distributor that helps marketers more efficiently advertise and target potential customers in a variety of ways, has its roots in central Arkansas.
Charles Ward first started Demographics Inc. in 1969 in Conway to compile mailing lists for Democratic political races. Fort Smith native and former IBM employee Charles Morgan joined in 1972. In 1978, Morgan and others in the company's management took shared ownership, and in 1979, they changed the name to Conway Communications Exchange or CCX.
By the time Morgan resigned four decades later as chairman and CEO, the company had moved its headquarters to Little Rock, become Acxiom Corp. and grown to about 7,000 employees across 12 countries with nearly $1.5 billion in annual revenue.
Morgan said the switch to Little Rock was about "overcoming the Conway labor market at the time" and about making it easier to fly in customers. "Conway didn't have an all-weather airport then," he said.
The 12-story building cost Acxiom Corp. $35 million to construct and has 174,000 square feet of office space. In its day, it was the largest downtown development since the TCBY tower of the mid-1980s and features a parking deck for more than 500 vehicles, a gym, a restaurant, a basketball court, full kitchens on every office floor and an adjacent 2.5-acre park.
George Makris Jr., Simmons First National Corp. chairman and chief executive, said in a release that the building will allow his company to consolidate offices around central Arkansas that the company has acquired over the years and "provide room for continued growth." The company said Simmons will remodel the building before moving about 200 employees to the offices during the next year, though Simmons headquarters will remain in Pine Bluff.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he had been "hopeful" that Simmons would close on the purchase. He called it a "great fit" and said it was evidence that "certainly they understand the importance of a big downtown presence."
Morgan said the Acxiom's Little Rock tower was strategically designed and built as "a symbol of a successful company." He said it was part of the company's sales and client services strategy to have "an impressive building" to show off to big clients like General Motors and Citibank.
"We wanted to be able to bring [clients] to Arkansas, knowing that 75 [percent] to 80 percent of the time those people had never been here before and probably had the vision that people in Arkansas didn't wear shoes," he said.
"It helped us grow our relationships with these guys," he said. "We didn't have to drive them up to Conway. We could just take them off the airplane and zip them over to this nice briefing center. And then, of course, we did things like take them to Doe's for steaks and a good, down-home time."
However, he said he never intended for the tower to become the company's headquarters: "I never even worked out of that building."
He said he purposefully set it up that way to mitigate "company politics."
"There's nothing worse than hearing someone is from 'headquarters.' I wanted them to say they were in the River Market building, not headquarters," he said of the employees in the tower.
Morgan and about 40 employees worked out of the official headquarters -- two floors of a four-story building in Riverdale. A few months after Morgan resigned from Acxiom in November 2007, the company moved its headquarters to the River Market District tower and ultimately sold the Riverdale building.
Morgan said that in recent conversations with Acxiom's current leader Howe, "I got the strong impression they were going to sell it."
"I feel like Acxiom has moved with their CEO and executive team mostly to California now. They have mostly abandoned us here, which I think was a mistake," he said.
"[The company is] the shadow of its former self, that's for sure," he said.
"The fact of the matter is their revenue is still less than it was when I left the company," he said. "They've struggled to find their way, and it's too bad because they've still got some great assets."
He said the building sale made sense because, "they had too much real estate with the head count they've reduced to. I don't blame them."
"We're excited for central Arkansas that all these jobs are still in place, and we're excited for Conway. To have that corporate address back in Conway is meaningful," said Jamie Gates, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, pointing out that Acxiom is the city's largest employer.
Today the company employs more than 3,300 people across offices in nine countries. It posted $850 million in revenue for fiscal 2016.
A Section on 03/11/2017