By Donna Hilton

Southern Bancorp of Arkadelphia was chosen Arkansas’ Business of the Year Thursday evening by Arkansas Business magazine.
The business won in category 3 of the competition, which is for businesses with 75 to 300 employees, Bill Wright, president of Elk Horn Bank and Trust, an affiliate of Southern Bancorp, said.

“People from every major business in Arkansas were there,” Wright said. “Over 900 business executives from all over the state attended.”

Phil Baldwin, chief executive officer of Southern Bancorp, was also nominated as Executive of the Year, but was not selected the winner.

“The candy lady beat me out,” Baldwin said, referring to the owner of The Candy Bouquet International, who was selected after beginning her business in her garage.

“She now has operations in 44 foreign countries,” he said. “So I’m not too disappointed.”

Calling from his cell phone while driving to Drew, Miss., for a meeting with the Kellogg Foundation, Baldwin said the award was indeed a surprise. “You never really expect to win these things,” he said.

Southern Bancorp is a unique corporation, he said. “We have the banking business as well as our philanthropic activities,” he said.
Thursday’s award was given for the banking business portion of the company’s activities, Baldwin said.

Southern Bancorp has increased its net income by more than 200 percent in the last few years, he said, which allows the company to continue its philanthropic activities.

“We are the largest rural development bank in the country,” Baldwin said.

There is only one larger development bank in the country, he said. It is in Chicago. “We’ll outgrow them in a few years,” he said.
Among Southern Bancorp’s competition for the award was Pulaski Bank and Trust. Last year’s winner was Twin City Bank, he said. “They’ve grown significantly since then,” he said.

Baldwin hopes the win will mean the same for Southern Bancorp. “We’ve got to run a good business” to be able to do the philanthropic activities, he said.

One of Baldwin’s goals for the corporation is to begin similar work in Arkadelphia and Clark County.

“We’re going to do more than we’re doing,” he said, including the development of a long-term Strategic Community Plan. This plan will map out improvements and development in the area for many years to come. “It’s a map for growth of the area.”

Baldwin said he plans to work with various community and civic groups and the Chamber of Commerce in developing the plan. It will include short-range, medium-range and long-range goals for the area.

The plan has worked successfully in other areas, he said. “We’ve done it in other places. There’s no reason why we can’t do that at home.”

Work such as that is one reason Southern Bancorp was chosen as Business of the Year.

“We are very proud of our parent in being recognized as a good corporate citizen based right here in Arkadelphia,” Wright said.