UPDATE Oxford American's Warwick Sabin to lead Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub | Arkansas Blog

UPDATE Oxford American's Warwick Sabin to lead Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub

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PROGRESSING: Warwick Sabin, in a photo staged after he won our Best Liberal readers choice award, is moving to a new job in North Little Rock.
  • PROGRESSING: Warwick Sabin, in a photo staged after he won our Best Liberal readers choice award, is moving to a new job in North Little Rock.

Leading the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, "synthesizes all of my interests and passions," Warwick Sabin said today by phone. After five and a half years as publisher of the Oxford American, he said the timing was right for him to leave and that he was confident he was leaving the magazine on good footing.

He begins as executive director of the new nonprofit on Sep. 1. He'll be focused on encouraging entrepreneurship in the region.

The new job won't keep him from continuing his term in the state House of Representatives, he said.

"All of the members of the legislature have other professional responsibilities. Certainly if any conflict were to arise I would seek to avoid that and maintain my ethical integrity."

Sabin said advertising director Ray Wittenberg will serve as interim publisher of the Oxford American.

Sabin led the Oxford American during a tumultuous period. He became publisher while working a full time job at UCA after an office manager at the magazine embezzled more than $100,000, sending the magazine into bankruptcy. He was an unpaid volunteer during his first year and a half on the job. Last year, of course, he weathered a nasty exit by founder and editor Marc Smirnoff and managing editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald, who were fired by the Oxford American board following allegations of sexual harassment. Sabin's hiring of former Harper's editor Roger Hodge to replace Smirnoff was seen as a coup in the media world. Earlier this month, the magazine opened South on Main, a restaurant and performance space.

Sabin said that the magazine's circulation and advertising sales have stabilized since the trying financial times, and it's recently won more grants and charitable donations than at time in the magazine's history.

I have a note into Rick Massey, who's on the Oxford American board, about plans for a publisher search.

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub was announced in late July. Similar projects have produced great results in some other places. The announcement was accompanied by instant controversy — petty politics on the part of Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, who didn't want the Museum of Discovery, which receives $200,000 annually in city support, participating in a project in North Little Rock.

Sabin didn't specifically comment on any of that, but did say, "It's very important to me that this new effort is really about building a regional and collaborative approach to this kind of economic development. Because I think that Central Arkansas is ripe for a coordinated and collaborative effort very much modeled after what’s happened in Northwest Arkansas."

We wrote about start-up culture in Northwest Arkansas last year.

Warwick Sabin has been named the executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a new non-profit organization that will promote entrepreneurship through business incubation, academic research, technical and manufacturing assistance, and job training. Sabin will assume his responsibilities on Sept. 1.

"I am honored to have the opportunity to establish a new collaborative regional approach to promoting entrepreneurial business development in Central Arkansas," Sabin said. "The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub will bring together corporate leaders, educators, nonprofit foundations, and local, state, and federal governments in a focused effort to assist startup ventures and prepare the workforce for the jobs that will follow. This is a comprehensive, cooperative, and practical way to achieve our potential as a region."

Many other regions of the country have embarked upon similar efforts with positive results, including New Orleans, Louisiana, and Northwest Arkansas. In May 2013, after a successful pilot program of the innovation hub model in Youngstown, Ohio, the U.S. government announced competitions for teams across the U.S. to win a combined $200 million to develop manufacturing innovation hubs. Furthermore, U.S. President Barack Obama's 2014 budget proposal included $1 billion to launch 15 advanced manufacturing hubs throughout the nation.

The first phase of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is the recently-unveiled Argenta Innovation Center (innovateargenta.com), which includes a co-work space, a youth arts program and an advanced-technology maker space that will operate in tandem to provide education, training, prototyping, and startup and entrepreneurial opportunities.

"Central Arkansas has the talent, amenities, and resources to support the development of cutting-edge new businesses," Sabin said. "But we need to work together — as cities, counties, colleges and universities, school districts, corporations, chambers of commerce — with the recognition that everyone has something to contribute to this effort and everyone has something to gain from its success. This is our chance to synthesize our assets and grow our regional economy from the grass roots in a way that is sustainable and real."

Sabin currently is publisher of the Oxford American magazine and a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. In 2009, Warwick was named to the FOLIO:40, a list of the 40 most influential people in the national magazine industry. Previously he served as director of development for the Clinton Foundation, and before that he worked on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and at Foreign Affairs magazine. He is a Marshall Scholar and a Truman Scholar, and he holds an M.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University and a B.A. (summa cum laude) in Political Science from University of Arkansas, where he graduated as valedictorian and was president of the student body. He received the University of Arkansas Young Alumni Award in 2005 and was named to the Arkansas Business "40 Under 40" in 2003, and he has volunteered and served on the boards of directors for numerous community and nonprofit organizations and projects in Little Rock. During the 2013 Arkansas legislative session, Sabin was elected Chair of the 41-member bi-partisan Freshmen Caucus for the 89th General Assembly, and he also serves as Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs. Both Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett as well as Talk Business Quarterly named Warwick among the top ten legislators of the recently-completed legislative session, and the Arkansas Times called him the "Freshman of the session".

What's this? Sabin's resume omits his time as associate editor and columnist for the Arkansas Times?

Coincidence: A reader this morning commented on how quickly a group had raised seed capital and gotten a development project off the ground in North Little Rock while Little Rock squabbles endlessly and fruitlessly on an ill-formed, so-far-incoherent notion to plow $22 million in sales tax money into a technology park. Maybe they could just farm the money out to Sabin.

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