Two unlikely students talk about the new Bootstrap Canvas classes now running at CoWerx46 on Commerce Street in downtown Montgomery.
Boyd Stephens says it was just an experiment. It’s one that ultimately didn’t take off, at least not as a traditional business.
CoWerx46 plans to close its tech-focused coworking space on Commerce Street in December, a year and a half after Stephens and two partners opened the doors. Stephens said he was skeptical from the outset that the city’s unique workforce would support such a space, and some “verbal commitments” related to the business never materialized.
“All the data showed me that we don’t have that (coworking) type of journeyman technology worker,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of those, and even those who do work that way, their customer is normally the Air Force or the state, so they have to be on site. But our business posture revolved around some other stuff we knew was going on in the community.”
One area where it found success was as a hub of meetups and events connected to Montgomery’s burgeoning tech movement. From Air Force Information Technology Conference competitions, to augmented reality programming events, to entrepreneurship classes, CoWerx46 became the gathering place or the spinoff point for much of the city’s tech talent over the past 18 months.
The new Air Force innovation center MGMWERX has been operating out of CoWerx46 since this summer as its permanent headquarters takes shape across the street.
The leader of the city’s new TechMGM initiative, which launched after CoWerx46, said tech gatherings will continue after the coworking space closes its doors.
“CoWerx46 has been a great facility to encourage collaboration and a magnet for tech-oriented events and gatherings,” TechMGM Executive Director Charisse Stokes said. “We anticipate the tech community continuing to utilize spaces like this in this way in and around the innovation district in the future. Boyd and his partners’ work in this area has brought tremendous value that will continue to shape our evolving tech strategy as we work to grow and attract a diverse tech community.”
Stephens channels Yoda as he talks about the next step – “it won’t be physical, as far as a place, but you’ll see us everywhere” – and gushes about the “revealing data” he’s taken away about the area’s workforce.
But he says he understands why some people would see the move as a bad sign for the future of the city’s innovation district. He’s heard it in the voice of nearby business owners when they asked him about the place. “A lot of business owners, especially in the food industry, they’re banking on some of this stuff coming to fruition,” Stephens said.
He points to the wide view, the fact that Montgomery is now an open data city, home to one of the Southeast’s busiest Internet exchanges, and home of one of a handful of Werx initiatives operated by the Department of Defense worldwide.
The closure of CoWerx46 just means tech workers here may not want a full-time coworking space, he said. “Follow the overarching effort. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
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