Coworking spaces evolving in downtown Waco | Business

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Keisha Bridges Miller, co-owner of Prosperity Tax Service, said if she can’t find it at Hustle, she probably doesn’t really need it.

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native and her husband, Rocky, have found their business groove in Waco, specifically at the new coworking center called Hustle at 605 Austin Ave. There, they entertain clients, network with other go-getters and rub elbows with a revolving group of experts willing to share their expertise.

Then there are the other perks: hot coffee, computer access, monotony breakers such as yoga and culinary classes, performances by Baylor Percussion Group, and presentations hosted by 1 Million Cups Waco, a program designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.

All that and a private office for $850 a month, Miller said by phone while preparing to end her 10-hour workday with a visit to Waco Hippodrome Theatre, a mere two blocks away, where she would relax with a movie.

“I absolutely love it,” Miller said. “I love the collaborations going on throughout the day. I love the programming. I love the people coming in and out, but if I need privacy to talk intimate details with a client, I have that. It’s tax season, so I’m getting a lot of traffic. The first thing I tell people, even before I sit down to do their taxes, is that they can rent space here.”

Hustle is a byproduct of Start Up Waco, a nonprofit effort involving the private sector, Baylor University and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. It occupies the partially renovated Woolworth Suites building downtown and officially kicked off with a block party Dec. 7 that attracted more than 200 people, said Jeremy Vickers, associate vice president for external affairs at Baylor University, and an influential spoke in the Hustle wheel.

Backers see Hustle as a complement to privately owned WacoWork, a coworking center at 600 Columbus Ave. funded by developer Marshall Stewman, whose local projects include Mary Avenue Market. WacoWork offers monthly rates on a shared desk, dedicated desk and private office for $199, $399 and $750-to-$1,200, respectively, according to online information and WacoWork founder Caroline Thornton, who oversees day-to-day operations.

“We have eight private offices, and we’re at full capacity,” Thornton said.

WacoWork provides round-the-clock access, conference rooms, high-speed internet service, community events and mail services to customers with a dedicated desk or private office. Those with a shared desk pay $20 an hour for conference rooms and $20 for targeted mail service.

A photography studio is available for $30 an hour, and WacoWork members get free parking and printing, and digital access keys they can access with their phones within 200 feet of the WacoWork site on Columbus Avenue.

WacoWork is brightly lighted, spacious and marked by towering ceilings, stylishly exposed ductwork and brickwork, and artwork that includes a lifesize menacing mammoth, a tip of the tusk to the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

Stewman, who travels extensively, said using coworking space during stops in Seattle, Denver and Austin motivated him to duplicate the service here.

“Having WacoWork and Hustle is essential to attraction and growth of Waco’s professional scene,” he said in an email response to questions. “Larger cities are seeing tens of thousands of square feet occupied with coworking space. Waco offering these coworking spaces will allow us to attract and retain talented professionals in lieu of them leaving for these other cities.”

Local commercial real estate agent Gregg Glime said he believes a new tax law has lighted the fuse on continued coworking growth.

New lease accounting rules require companies to report their lease obligations as a liability on their balance sheets, a requirement that “on a larger corporate level will start pushing office leases to shorter-term deals and force companies to start looking at third-party coworking spaces as an alternative to longer-term leases,” Glime said in an email response to questions.

Revised tax laws coupled with the trend toward open-office layouts and the desire among many young professionals to “work within a comingling environment,” makes coworking a force for the future, Glime wrote.

“This is certainly a dynamic we are paying close attention to and analyzing for many office property owners we represent throughout Waco,” he said.

Zachary Esmond, of Houston, said WacoWork has proved invaluable in his work as local account manager for Ergos Technology Partners.

“I joined in late December,” Esmond said. “I had been interested in securing some office space, but this will serve as my business address in the interim. It’s been great. I meet other business-minded people, freelancers, and it’s a really good atmosphere. They have little booths set up, so if you have an important or potentially heated phone call, you can have privacy. They have free coffee, beer on tap, which I don’t do myself but it is available.”

A receptionist at WacoWork even sends text messages to announce the arrival of guests or clients, Esmond said.

Lindsey Roberson, a digital marketing specialist for Temple-headquartered Open Path Digital Solutions, said she visits WacoWork almost daily. The Mary Hardin-Baylor graduate has clients nationwide and internationally.

“I spend the good majority of my day creating content, including building blogs and social media posts,” Roberson said. “I can work really wherever I want, as the company has a culture of working remotely, with everything done off a computer. After college, I wanted to move to a new city, one within an easy drive from Temple, and Waco was the right place for me.”

She buys shared space at WacoWork, “using any of the open areas.”

Wendy Gragg with City Center Waco said she is impressed with both Hustle and WacoWork.

“WacoWork is very different aesthetically, with modern white walls, that neat mural of the mammoth,” Gragg said. “It has a very cool vibe. If you like modern, it might speak to you more. Hustle has a warmer feel, warmer tones, warmer colors, copper chairs. The two have different looks, different feels, but they are jumping in as good partners in the downtown community.”

The Hustle website outlines three monthly options for users. Those wanting a virtual membership pay $50 for three-day passes, access to conference rooms and printer services and participation in members-only events.

Those paying $150 a month for floating-desk service receive access to high-speed Wi-Fi service, conference rooms, printer service, mentorship programs, coffee and snacks and a business address designation.

Dedicated desks run $275 a month or more and include 24/7 access, high-speed Wi-Fi, locker and storage space, filing cabinet, coffee and snacks, business address designation, mentorships and a personal computer.

Vickers, the Baylor University official aligned with Hustle, said it evolved with the benefit of $1.5 million in cash, in-kind services and an executive loan agreement that made available Greg Leman, part of the team at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaboration, to get the project rolling.

Leman served as interim executive director, “but his involvement has run its course,” and the quest for a full-time director is underway, Vickers said.

Yet another $1.5 million fundraising campaign has started to underwrite Hustle’s operating costs over five years, Vickers said. Several local banks have made pledges, including Extraco, American Bank, First National Bank of Central Texas and TFNB Your Bank for Life, he said.

Other potential benefactors “are in the pipeline,” he said.

Hustle has 5,000 square feet under lease on Austin Avenue, and enjoys right of first refusal on another 10,000 square feet, Vickers said.

He said at least 30 local business leaders and industry experts have volunteered to provide mentoring services to paying members.



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