Arkansas Business Publishing Group

Arkansas Business, a weekly newspaper and website based in Little Rock (Pulaski County), is the leading source of business news and information in the state. Started in the spring of 1984, the newspaper initially struggled before becoming a publishing powerhouse. In the twenty-first century, the business has dozens of employees in its downtown namesake River Market District office building.

Arkansas Business was the brainchild of twenty-three-year-old Dan Owens, a Warren (Bradley County) native who was then the editor of the Jacksonville Daily News. Owens had created a business plan featuring a rate card, business articles, advertising contracts, and logo/letterhead/business cards. He was prepared to publish his first issue on a shoestring budget when a journalism colleague and friend, Arkansas Gazette reporter James Scudder, suggested he get some advice from Alan Leveritt. Leveritt had driven a cab at night to generate startup money to pay a small staff to launch the well-known Arkansas Times magazine.

Owens appeared at Leveritt’s Little Rock office one morning unannounced in 1983. But Leveritt had no time for a meeting. After quite a bit of back and forth in the hallway outside his office, Owens thanked Leveritt and promised to mail him a copy of the first issue. As Owens was leaving, Leveritt reconsidered and offered Owens a fifteen-minute meeting. Two hours later, the two had ironed out a partnership agreement between Owens and the Arkansas Writers Project, Leveritt’s publishing firm with business partner Olivia Farrell.

The agreement was to enlist Doug Martin, who was an executive at Stephens Inc., and lawyer Mark Nichols to help raise $100,000 in $5,000 and $10,000 increments to launch the business publication properly. Eventually, executives with Stephens Inc., the Rose Law Firm, Alltel, and several other notable Arkansas executives/firms invested a total of $80,000 to launch the new publishing venture, with the first issue published in the spring of 1984. In 2020, when the publishing firm was sold to Mitch Bettis, a $10,000 limited partnership investment had grown to a six-figure payday for at least one original investor.

Owens became the chief promoter, selling advertisements to be published in the 6,000-circulation central Arkansas biweekly. Former Benton Daily News editor Ted Wagnon, a Stephens (Ouachita County) native, was hired as the first editor, and Little Rock native Tom Honeycutt, a former Pine Bluff Commercial reporter, became associate editor. Together, Wagnon and Honeycutt took advantage of the daily-newspaper war, during which the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette were feverishly competing and giving scant attention to business news coverage. Early issues featured profiles of a prominent businesspeople, with that person’s portrait by well-known Arkansas photographer Andrew Kilgore featured on the cover. In 1985, reporter George Waldon joined the editorial staff. By 2024, Waldon was the last early staff member still writing for Arkansas Business.

One of Owens’s enduring contributions was the popular “Whispers” column—business tidbits and rumors that have titillated the Arkansas business community since the column’s inception.

Arkansas Business gained a huge amount of acclaim and credibility in its first year when Wagnon, acting on a tip, investigated the background of supposed biotechnology guru Paul Simmons in 1984. Governor Bill Clinton and state economic development officials were committing millions in startup funds for Simmons to launch BioPlex International, a Little Rock high-tech biotechnology park. Wagnon uncovered Simmons’s questionable past, including his use of a diploma mill degree on his résumé. After Arkansas Business reported on Simmons’s background, Clinton and state officials were embarrassed and backpedaled. The two competing daily newspapers had to admit to being scooped. The fledging newspaper’s reporting gained it newfound professional respect.

Owens sold his interest in the publication in 1986 to the Arkansas Writers Project; in 1996, Leveritt and Farrell split the assets of the project. Farrell created a new firm, Arkansas Business Publishing Group, which published Arkansas Business, (2000), and a number of other annual or special interest publications. Leveritt continued to own stock in ABPG until its 2020 sale. He continued to publish the Arkansas Times magazine and other specialty publication titles.

In 1997, ABPG launched the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, which grew along with the region; that regional publication was sold in 2004. From 2000 to 2020 under ABPG Chairman/CEO Farrell, ABPG generally expanded in revenues, number of specialty publications, and number of special events.

In 2020, Farrell announced the sale of ABPG to Mitch Bettis, an Arkadelphia (Clark County) native who had been hired as general manager of the company in 2013. He took over as president/publisher of a publishing firm that had grown to seventy employees with thirty publication titles. Arkansas Business advertises that it has a regular readership of approximately 80,000.

There have been several notable long-term staffers with the firm in addition to the founders and Bettis. Wythe Walker was hired in 1989 as an advertising salesman but quickly rose to become Arkansas Business editor and then publisher in 1991; he left the newspaper in 1996. Jeff Hankins was hired as editor in 1993, was named editor/publisher in 1996, and became president/publisher in 1999; he resigned in 2012. Lance Turner was named assistant editor in 1999, editor of in 2000, and editor of Arkansas Business in 2021. Gwen Moritz was named Arkansas Business editor in 1999, serving in that position until 2021.

For additional information:
Arkansas Business. (accessed February 5, 2024).

“Arkansas Business Names New Publisher.” Arkansas Business, October 7, 1996.

“Gwen Moritz Named Editor; Darin Gray Is Promoted.” Arkansas Business, August 2, 1999.

Harris, Jim. “Paper Has Met Many Challenges in 15 Years.” Arkansas Business, March 29, 1999.

“Lance Turner Named Next Editor of Arkansas Business.” Arkansas Business, June. 7, 2021.

Leveritt, Alan. “A Dream Becomes Newspaper with Integrity and Financial Viability.” Arkansas Business, March 28, 1994.

Massey, Kyle. “Ted Wagnon, Wordsmith and First Arkansas Business Editor, Dies at 68.” Arkansas Business, June 15, 2020.

“Publisher Acquires Business Journal.” Arkansas Business, June 22, 2004.

Thatcher, Jeff. “Arkansans Found Business Journal.” Arkansas Democrat, February 29, 1984.

Wagnon, Ted. “Officials Want Key Figure Paul Simmons in BioPlex Project Out.” Arkansas Business, March 31, 2014.

“Walker Resigns as Publisher.” Arkansas Business, July 8, 1996.

Dan Owens
Arkansas Business Publishing Group


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