Billings has found its shared working space mojo this summer.
Last week, two new businesses in town launched communal office space designed to be rented by the day, week or month by small businesses, entrepreneurs or freelance workers.
BHive WorkSpace opened Monday on Broadwater Avenue in central Billings, and CoWork Billings opened downtown on 26th Street North on Thursday. They join Big Sky Cospace, which opened a space earlier this summer on Gabel Road on the West End.
It’s a sudden burst of co-working space in a town where this particular model previously has not found success.
Communal work space that can be rented by freelancers, entrepreneurs and small startups has boomed over the past few years in bigger metropolitan areas. WeWork, one of the biggest, rents co-working space in large urban centers, from London to Los Angeles.
Kirk Williams, who runs a small marketing firm, moved to Billings two years ago. Setting up shop, he and his wife Elise, a photographer, had rented office and studio space on the 2000 block of Broadwater.
A vacant storefront next door got them thinking about possibly leasing the space and converting it into a co-working center. He started researching the viability of the project and was surprised to find nothing like it existed in Billings.
“We think it’s still a new enough idea,” Kirk said. “We think that’s why it’s not really here in Billings.”
So he and his wife launched BHive.
Tiffany Youngren and her husband Duane had a similar experience. The Youngrens run OMH Agency in downtown Billings and eventually bought the building at 11 North 26th Street.
“My husband and I just love downtown so much,” she said.
OMH specializes in website design and digital marketing, and with the work Tiffany Youngren splits her time between Billings and Los Angeles. While in California, she rents space at WeWork.
The Youngrens have watched as the business climate in Billings has heated up, and they work with a lot of young, energetic freelancers and entrepreneurs. It was clear to them that downtown Billings would benefit from co-working space.
They launched CoWork Billings earlier this summer and held an open house Thursday to draw some additional attention to the venture. Youngren wanted a chance to hear from people and understand better what the needs were of the local small business community.
Offering work space that doesn’t require a multi-year lease is one of the most attractive selling points for companies like BHive and Billings CoWork. The challenge becomes luring potential customers out of the free-wifi and comfy-chair trappings of local coffee shops.
“We need to convince people why they need this space,” Kirk Williams said.
The three co-working spots in Billings offer high-speed internet, coffee and snacks, group meeting space, designer office furniture and an atmosphere that captures that “hip factor,” said Tiffany Youngren.
More than that, Youngren said, is the importance of vision. Successful businesses do a specific thing in a specific way. That in turn attracts like-minded customers, she said.
The Youngrens hope to attract like-minded young professionals with their specific vision for CoWork Billings. Kirk Williams feels the same.
“I think people just need to see the space,” he said.
Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development, is pleased to see the growth of coworking space in Billings.
“We’re just catching up to some broader, national trends,” he said.
For the past year, his group has been working on creating an entrepreneurial resource center that would offer some of the same services as these smaller co-working spaces.
“We’ve been working on this issue for several years,” he said.
Coworking space can be flexible and nimble for small businesses just starting out or for freelancers who need professional space, he said. It increases the area’s business development potential.
Arveschoug sees the trend of companies getting into the business of offering coworking space as still in the experimental phase.
“Sometimes they’re successful, sometimes they’re not,” he said.
Still, he welcomes it and believes it’ll help support business development in Billings.
In the next year, Big Sky Economic Development hopes to launch its entrepreneurial resource center, which will feature not only work space but business support and mentoring for startup and small businesses.
The idea is to create a space that will give small companies and entrepreneurs a place to work and meet up with peers, to receive mentoring from more experienced business leaders and to find tools to help grow their business.
“We’ve been a very good platform” for helping launch new businesses, Arveschoug said. “We want to do more of that and build up more diversity in the economy.”