LYNDONVILLE — The top floor of the old Bag Balm factory in Lyndonville is the new home of the Do North Coworking space.
The new Do North Coworking center – an undertaking of Northern Vermont University (NVU) – located at 930 Broad St. in the heart of Lyndonville, was officially christened with a grand opening celebration recently. About 50 people, including state legislators, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and an array of local officials, and boosters gathered to celebrate the endeavor.
Dr. Elaine Collins, president of NVU, said 43 percent of the workforce today works remotely, and that figure is growing, so serving people with high-speed internet and tech services will help to foster the emerging labor force that is working that way, and help to keep workers here and grow startup companies in the Northeast Kingdom.
“That is the kind of work that people want to engage in,” Collins said at the opening.
Ted Brady, the deputy secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said he was in the room when the idea for a coworking space first came up during a Community Visit process through the Vermont Council on Rural Development a year-and-a-half ago.
Brady was impressed with how quickly the idea became reality.
“This is a great day in the Kingdom,” he said.
Brady said he remembers when Evan Carlson, a town native who came home to the Northeast Kingdom and was part of the brainstorming sessions Brady referred to, first suggested a coworking space. “The room just lit on fire,” he said, everyone thought it was a great idea.
During that Community Visit process, there were 56 mentions by people in the final report for wanting to see then Lyndon State College and now Northern Vermont University (NVU) have a stronger presence in Lyndonville.
Carlson was introduced as the new entrepreneur-in-residence of the coworking space.
Members of the Paris family were thanked for their work to restore the historically significant business building in the heart of Lyndonville, with the iconic Bag Balm larger-than-life tin can in green and red preserved as an eye-catching landmark on the building’s exterior.
The building had sat empty for years, and was purchased by the family, who also own a farm in town, and operate the adjoining parcel, the Lyndon Freighthouse, a natural foods market and restaurant.
Downstairs, the Paris family is transforming the space for a second restaurant they will soon debut.
The space has an anchor tenant, Whiteout Solutions, whose co-owner Matthew Clark was introduced at the event.
Whiteout Solutions creates software programming for drones and is a startup hoping to grow through its anchor at the new coworking space, said Clark, who owns the business with his wife, Chrissy Heinrich.
For the past two weeks, the center had a soft opening, and offered free use to people and saw a lot of activity from a diverse array of business people, said Carlson, from nurses to kitchen designers, scientists, professors and more.
Ann Nygard, director of the Center for Professional Studies at Northern Vermont University, who helped to shepherd the new coworking space working with community volunteers including Carlson, welcomed the dozens of people at the Nov. 15 opening, and said the coworking space has high hopes for helping to jump-start new businesses and aid remote workers, as well as people who want to work while on vacation in Vermont.
Nygard credited Collins, the president of NVU, with being a booster of the idea from the get-go, saying she gave it an immediate, “Thumbs up, green light, go do it!” when she first heard the mention of a possible university-sponsored coworking space in downtown Lyndonville.
The space provides rentable office facilities for entrepreneurs and remote workers to expand their businesses, network, and collaborate.
Nygard said, “Do North Coworking is an initiative of Center for Professional Studies, NVU’s vehicle for providing non-degree education and training for industry recognized credential.”
“More and more people need to bridge skills gaps in order to reach their career goals,” said Nygard of the need for the coworking space. “Factors like the fast moving pace of technology changes, an increase in the number of people working remotely, and rise in self- employment all translate into a growing need for life- long learning. Do North Coworking is an accessible on ramp for life-long learning right in the center of Lyndonville. The coworking space will offer programming that is adaptive and integrative to provide people a resource to cultivate the new skills needed to move forward in their careers.”
Nygard explained, “Sometimes businesses, especially start-ups and businesses looking to move to the next level, are looking to tap into existing talent and skills. The coworking space is an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to network and find what they need to grow and thrive.”
The costs are $20 for a drop-in day pass, which will afford access to the space from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., including free coffee and tea, and high-speed internet access.
A full membership to the new coworking space starts at $100 a month for 24/7 access to the space, use of the conference room (paid for with a grant from the Kingdom Trails Association and named the Kingdom Trails Room), and access to events and more.
A number of sponsors contributed to make the new Do North Coworking space dream come true, said Nygard, crediting the following with their support: the Lyndon State College Foundation, North Country Federal Credit Union, Northeastern Vermont Development Association, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Northern Counties Health Care, Passumpsic Savings Bank, the United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development, the United States Economic Development Association, the United States Northern Border Regional Commission and the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies.
Bob Morgan, president and CEO of the North Country Federal Credit Union, was one of the featured speakers at Thursday’s opening of the Do North Coworking space. The credit union made a 5-year commitment to help fund the space, a total pledge of $125,000.
The next closest cash donation was from NVRH at $30,000, with other Kingdom Trails the third top donor at $25,000.
The total project cost was $887,341, with federal grants making up $608,375, and the rest coming from community and NVU matching funds.
That the coworking space hopes to become a hub of economic activity and to help foster micro businesses in the region made it a natural for the credit union to support with enthusiasm, said Morgan, “We are just honored to be a part of it.”