Finding Information about Private Companies by Chris Roush


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Chris Roush presents "Finding Information about Private Companies," part of the free, daylong workshop, "Uncovering the Best Local Businesses," which is geared toward community and local journalists on a budget.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit

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Finding Information about Private Companies by Chris Roush

  1. 1. Finding information about private companies April 12, 2013 Fayetteville, Ark. Chris Roush
  2. 2. Public vs. Private•  Business reporters spend a lot of time writing stories about publicly traded companies who file documents with the SEC•  Makes it easier to cover business, because lots of information is disclosed.•  Does it make reporters lazy? In some cases, I would argue yes.
  3. 3. Private companiesn  Smaller companies are the backbone of local economies.n  22.9 million, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.n  Small businesses provide 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy, and represent 99.7 percent of all employers.n  More than half of the private work force is employed by a small business, which accounted for 52 percent of the private sector output.
  4. 4. Private companiesn  Can sometimes be harder to find information about private companies.n  If you look hard enough though, you’ll find what you’re looking for.n  Many private companies will disclose the information somewhere, to someone.
  5. 5. Private companiesn  Don’t be afraid to ask.n  When someone tells you no, keep digging.
  6. 6. Some basic places to look
  7. 7. The beauty of checking upn  A developer came to Nashville and proposed building an amusement park.n  Annie Johnson of the Nashville Business Journal looked into his background.n  She found a trail of unpaid bills, bounced checks, evictions, troubled business associates and unfulfilled plans.n  She got to write sentences like this: “In a 2006 letter related to the purchase of the San Diego property, Peterson said he received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. (Harvard’s MBA Registrar has no record that Peterson attended the school.)”
  8. 8. State recordsn  The Secretary of State’s office has records on every business incorporated in Arkansas.n  Here you can search by company name, new corporations or by registered agent.
  9. 9. Secretary of State recordsn  You can also search Secretary of State records to get similar information for other operations.n  These include non-profit entities, limited liability corporations such as law firms and limited partnerships, and notaries public.
  10. 10. What this will show youn  Incorporation records give you a listing of a businesses officers, or executives.n  It will also give you a mailing address and a phone number.n  Has their license expired? If it has, that could be a sign of financial trouble.
  11. 11. Occupational Licensing Boardsn  There are regulatory boards that govern dozens of industries in Arkansas.n  They range from acupuncture to X-ray technicians.n  These boards have Web sites where you can also find information about businesses in these industries.n Pages/governmentAgencies.aspx
  12. 12. Licensing board examplesn  In August, the Californian wrote about how the state Contractors State License Board was finding and fining unlicensed contractors in the county.
  13. 13. County recordsn  Before any sole proprietorship or partnership does business in Arkansas under an assumed name, the business name must be registered.n  An assumed name is any name other than the real name of the owner or owners the business.n  Business names or partnerships must be filed with the Register of Deeds Office in the county or counties where it does business.
  14. 14. The WARN Actn  Employers who are laying off or firing workers are required to disclose such moves 60 days before they do it.n  This is a document filed with the Employment Security Department.n  Regularly check for WARN act filings.
  15. 15. The WARN Actn  An employer must give notice if a plant will be shut down, and the shutdown will result in an employment loss for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period.n  An employer must give notice if there is to be a mass layoff which does not result from a plant closing, but which will result in an employment loss at the site during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33 percent of the employers active workforce.
  16. 16. Safety and healthn  Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions should be made in writing to the Occupational Safety and Health Division.n  The division conducts investigations of complaints made by workers, investigations of work-related accidents and deaths, general schedule inspections of randomly picked firms, and follow-up inspections of firms previously cited for OSHA violations.
  17. 17. Workplace injuries n  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects workplace deaths and injuries. n establishment.html n  This site allows you to look at accident investigation reports and inspection reports for companies by industry. n  Found 254 cases involving Wal-Mart since August 2007. n  Found only 2 for J.B. Hunt during the same time period.
  18. 18. Workplace injuriesn  The Fort Myers News-Press reported about an OSHA investigation into the drowning of a worker at a country club.n  TheToledo Blade reported that a construction company in Ohio was fined $26,100 for failing to prevent worker safety hazards.
  19. 19. My favorites
  20. 20. UCC filingsn  Who owes money to whom, and how much?n  These documents are available through the Secretary of State’s Office in Arkansas.n
  21. 21. UCC filingsn  A UCC filing occurs when one business sells something to another business on credit. The business that sold the tractor to the farmer, for example, filed a UCC form showing that the tractor is collateral for the loan.n  If the business that purchased the tractor fails to pay the loan, the other business can repossess the tractor. UCC forms can show whether a business is borrowing a lot of money to make purchases.n  This could be a sign that the company plans to expand its operations.
  22. 22. UCC storiesn  When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated a church that wanted to redevelop a shopping center, it looked at its UCC filings and discovered that banks and other lenders had given it seven loans despite the fact that it had fallen behind in paying its taxes and other debts.n  When USA Today researched former WorldCom leader Bernie Ebbers, it pored through UCC filings around the country to get a detailed list of everything he’d invested on or purchased in the past decade. That helped show the reader where the money he’d made from WorldCom had gone.
  23. 23. Non-profit organizationsn  Even though they’re not in operation to make money, you can still find out financial information.n is a Web site with information about non-profit organizations across the country.n  Found the financial information for more than 750 non-profits in Fayetteville on this site. Some of them look like businesses to me.
  24. 24. Some Fayetteville non-profitsn  Fayetteville Habitat for Humanity had $516,000 in revenue and $485,000 in expenses.n  Fayetteville Community Foundation had revenue of $1.78 million but less than $60,000 in expenses.n  Fayetteville Youth Center had revenue of $1.7 million and expenses of $2.1 million.
  25. 25. Non-profit organizationsn  Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.n  Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations with more than $100,000 in annual receipts or total assets of at least $250,000. Form 990-EZ must be filed by smaller organizations, with at least $25,000 in annual receipts and total assets of less than $250,000.n  The forms are public documents that reveal income, expenses, assets and liabilities; expenditures by program category; program accomplishments; names of officers, directors and key employees; compensation paid to officers, directors and key employees. Most religious organizations are not required to file Form 990.
  26. 26. Non-profit resourcesn -- A searchable database for Form 990 filings with the Internal Revenue Service for more than 60,000 foundations. Can search by name, location or assets. More than one year may be available.n -- Has independent evaluations of more than 2,500 charities. Database can be searched by category, region or keyword.
  27. 27. Non-profit resourcesn -- The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance maintains reports on nationally soliciting charitable organizations that are the subject of donor inquiries. These reports include an evaluation of the subject charity in relation to the voluntary BBB charity standards.n -- State charities databases on the Web. Some states do not have an online search for charity information, while others allow you to search by name or word.
  28. 28. Small Business Administrationn  Federal agency created to help small business owners.n  Virtually every small business is private.n  Millions of companies registered with SBA to receive benefits or to qualify for contracts and business.
  29. 29. Small Business Administrationn Information/Small-Business-Investment- Companies/sbicar.txtn  I found this list of small business investment companies in Arkansas on the SBA Web site. (Can do a lot of other searches here.)
  30. 30. Credit unionsn  Many cities have dozens of credit unions. Yet many newspapers don’t write stories about them.n  Credit union financial information is available online from the National Credit Union Administration.n Click on “Credit Union Data” on the left-hand menu to find specific information about any credit union. There are 21 credit unions in Little Rock.
  31. 31. Credit unionsn  The Dillard’s credit union reported a 44 percent increase in net income in the first quarter of 2005.n  Northwest Arkansas Credit Union had $6.9 million worth of loans on its books. More than half of that loan amount is for car loans. Why?n  The Democrat Gazette credit union saw its profits fall 12 percent due to an increase in loan loss reserves. But still profitable.
  32. 32. Banksn  Regulated by state and federal agencies.n  Data on bank branches -- including private banks -- such as market share is available online.n Go here and click on “Bank Data” to get market share info.n Find any bank holding company or location insured by the FDIC. Search results will tell you the bank’s total deposits and assets, as well as financial performance.n  Found 13 small, private banks based in Little Rock.
  33. 33. Banksn  Lake Hamilton Enterprises Inc. in Little Rock owns First Team Bank in Heber Springs.n  First Team Bank operates branches using the name Cleburne County Bank in five counties.n  The main branch in Heber Springs has $53 million in deposits. But a branch in Quitman only has $8 million in deposits.n  And one in Center Ridge has but $1.4 million.n  Also useful:
  34. 34. Insurance companiesn  State insurance departments have tons of financial information on privately held insurance companies. Can get revenues, profits and regulatory action.n  Many insurance companies set up subsidiaries for each state because of varying insurance laws. Can get Allstate and State Farm results for your state.n  Rate increases make great stories. They affect everyone. Regularly check with your insurance department about rate requests.n  Find state insurance department Web sites here:
  35. 35. Random Web sites
  36. 36. Political campaign contributionsn  How much did Lee Scott give to certain local political campaigns?n  What about federal campaigns?n disclosure_data_search.shtmln  The last database goes back to 1980. Can search company names as well.
  37. 37. Lobbyingn  Does the company have a lobbyist, and how much are they paying them?n index.aspn  The Arkansas Children’s Hospital pays a lobbyist $40,000 a year.n  The Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas also pays a lobbyist $40,000 a year.n  But Wal-Mart pays a lobbying firm by the name of Miller & Chevalier $280,000 a year.
  38. 38. Hospital financial datan  I found financial information for 16 hospitals in the Little Rock area on this site, including Baptist Health Medical Center and St. Vincent Infirmary.n  Found financial information for Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Heart Hospital and Arkansas State Hospital. Southwest Regional Medical Center and The Bridgeway Hospital as well.n  This is a subscriber site.
  39. 39. Patents and trademarksn  Type in a company’s name and see what they’re getting patents for.n  Wal-Mart has received 22 trademarks in recent years, including one for the “Wal-Mart Eco Program” in March. The trademark for the “Wal-Mart Money Center Check-Free Banking” was abandoned by National Commercial Financial Corp. in March.n  Information in the patent application goes a long way in explaining what a business does – or is planning to do.
  40. 40. The EPAn -- Click on the docket to the left on the home page to see Federal Register notices, support documents and public comments for regulations the agency publishes and various non-regulatory activities.n  Also a nice search engine of environmental information available by ZIP Code, which lists EPA regulated businesses.
  41. 41. Toxic wasten index.html -- The Toxic Release Inventory is a database of information about releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities.n  Facilities must report their releases of a toxic chemical if they fulfill four criteria. This can be searched by geographic regions as well as by facility, parent company and industry.
  42. 42. Activistsn -- Profiles anti- consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of their exorbitant funding.n  Breaks them up among activist groups, foundations, celebrities and major individual players in the activist community.
  43. 43. Amusement parks/ridesn amuse.pdf -- This file lists who regulates amusement park rides on a state-by- state basis.
  44. 44. EEOCn -- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates charges against businesses for unfair employment practices or discrimination.n  “Litigation” section on the left side of the page has a link to a monthly report on all of the actions taken by the agency.
  45. 45. Consumer advocatesn -- National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents the interest of consumers before state and federal agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia.n  Nice list of its testimony and filings.
  46. 46. Consumer productsn -- Search for complaints of compliments about any product and any company at this site.n  If you’re writing about consumer products companies, the postings here might provide some story ideas.
  47. 47. One last thoughtn  Good business writers are hard to find.n  Make a name for yourself writing business stories, and your career will take off.n  A knowledge of how to write business stories about private companies can be applied to any beat at a newspaper or any publication.n  Private company coverage will make your reporting stand out.