“Coworking” is a hot new trend in today’s business world.
With today’s work-from-anywhere technology, many employees of big companies, as well as entrepreneurs, find they can work from home instead of having to hassle with a rush hour commute into town, expenses of parking and traffic, and the distractions of work with a big employer.
But working from home has its disadvantages, as well. It can be isolating and distracting. You may have nobody around you during the day, and being surrounded by your stuff can divert your attention from what you have to do. Distractions (cable TV, Facebook, fridge, dog, dirty rugs, dirty laundry) lurk everywhere.
Coworking spaces offer an alternative between renting an office somewhere and working at home. Instead of renting an office — where you would still be alone, just not at home — you rent access to a shared workspace.
Like many of today’s trends, coworking was born in California. Brad Neuberg, a software programmer, is credited with launching the coworking movement in San Francisco in 2005, with a goal of combining the independence of freelancing with the structure and community of an office space.
Neuberg got a few friends together to share a rental space that he equipped with printers, fax machines and wireless internet. As he later recalled: “I said, ‘Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too? Is there a way that I can have community and independence?’ It’s a false assumption that you can’t have both.”
From California, the coworking idea has spread nationwide. At first it was mostly limited to big urban areas, but now it can be found in communities of all sizes.
And it’s an idea that’s taking hold in West Virginia.
“Work independently, not alone,” is the mantra of the
of West Virginia State University.For more than a decade, the EDC has provided “Coworking Space for Entrepreneurs, Innovators, Digital Artists, Makers and the Generally Curious,” its website says.
Opened in 2005, the WVSU Economic Development Center at 1506 Kanawha Blvd. W. offers free public space and services during the center’s office hours (Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
“You can drop in and use one of our computer workstations or hang out at and enjoy free Wi-Fi,” said Jaime Rinehart, the EDC’s facility and program coordinator. At the same time, the center offers a selection of highly affordable membership plans.
Are you working from home but need a professional setting for a meeting — or just for a change of scenery? Are you telecommuting and need a workspace for just a day or two? The EDC offers shared office space for $5 per hour or $20 a day.
“You get phone service, Wi-Fi, seating for up to four people, copy and fax services and even free coffee,” Rinehart said.
Need to accommodate a group for training, presentations, board meetings or even social events? The EDC features three flexible meeting spaces with projectors, mobile monitors, wireless internet, whiteboards and conference phones.
Looking for a home for your small business or organization? The EDC has eight private, fully furnished offices for lease at $300 per month, with a one-year contract.
“Right now, all eight offices are occupied and we keep a waiting list for the spaces as they become available,” said Rinehart. “Our private offices are ideal for fledgling businesses or small organizations. Amenities included for the offices include 24-7 access, a private phone line and business mailing address, copy and fax service, Wi-Fi and more.”
The EDC’s multimedia production facilities can enable businesses to create their own digital content, such as commercials, voiceovers, product shoots, music and graphics. A monthly fee of $50 gets you 10 hours of usage per week. Additional hours can be arranged if available.Need help with a business plan, marking or logo design? “We offer a myriad of business development services,” Rinehart said. “Plus we regularly schedule free community workshops, panels and talks focused on key skills essential to creating for mass media and art. Topics include digital photography, 3D animation, independent publishing, music for media and much more.”
“Here at the center, you can work within a community of like-minded individuals, spark new collaborations and meet potential new clients on a daily basis,” Rinehart said. “We think we’ve created the perfect communal setting for building relationships and extending your business network.”
To find out more about the WVSU Economic Development Center, call 304-720-1401 or log on to wvsuedc.org.
Farther east in the Kanawha Valley, in Montgomery, BridgeValley Community and Technical Colleges offers business innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs GRID space — Generate, Renew, Innovate and Design.Located in Montgomery at 807 2nd Ave., BridgeValley’s GRID offers space and technologies on a rental basis, including access to Wi-Fi connectivity, dedicated office space and retail space. The GRID also offers space and access to machinery and technology for community education classes and workshops.
“The overarching purpose of the GRID is to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Upper Kanawha Valley,” said Laura McCullough, vice president of Community Education. “BridgeValley’s vision is to transform the region’s extraction-based economy into an economy driven by diverse micro-businesses.
“Entrepreneurship that reflects the arts and trade traditions of Appalachia is an increasingly important component of economic revitalization in southern West Virginia,” McCullough said. “There are a handful of business incubators in the region that promote new business formation in these industries. But none are close enough to Montgomery to serve most residents of the Upper Kanawha Valley.”
GRID fees range from $20 per day for coworking space or makerspace, to $75 per month to drop in anytime to use coworking space, to $200 per month for a dedicated office, among other options.
“GRID combines the structure and features of an industrial makerspace with the elements of a business incubator and the educational opportunities of BridgeValley’s entrepreneurship program,” McCullough said.
Entrepreneurs and others can learn more at bridgevalley.edu/grid.
In Huntington, CoWorks is the city’s first coworking space, founded by friends Bryan Shaw and Jeremy Turner. It opened in June 2018 on the first floor of the JP Morgan Chase building at 1000 5th Ave.“In Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis and Lexington you could find 12 coworking spaces in any of those cities. Now you can find one in Huntington, as well,” said Shaw, president of Scaleable Ventures.
“CoWorks is going to be a place where people can dream big dreams and turn those dreams into something,” said Turner, managing director of EPIC Mission.
“We currently have more than a dozen organizations and individuals using space at CoWorks,” said executive director Julie Hewett. One of those organizations is Hewett’s own business, JulNet Solutions, LLC, which handles association and event management.
Available space at CoWorks varies, ranging from daily drop-in rates to dedicated desk space and offices.
For $75 a month, the flex desk plan provides members with open seating, Wi-Fi, couches, tables, a professional mailing address and kitchen access. For $150 a month, members can get their own personal desk, secured storage space, dedicated power, Wi-Fi, a professional mailing address, exercise facility access, kitchen access and two hours per month of conference room allowance.
A private office approximately 12 feet by 12 feet in size with blinds for privacy, Wi-Fi or dedicated line option, a professional mailing address, exercise facility access, kitchen access and five hours per month of conference room allowance is priced at $300 per month.
A larger executive office, approximately 20 feet by 20 feet, with all the same features as the private office, leases for $400 per month.
A conference room that seats up to eight people and outfitted with a white board and 50-inch television with video conference is available for $25 per hour. An event or training room that seats up to 120 people, has a detached kitchen for catering and dual 50-inch televisions for presentations costs $75 per hour. A day pass with Wi-Fi and couches is available for $20 per day.
“Just because you have a place to work doesn’t mean you know how to run a business,” said Hewett. “So we plan to have workshops and other events aimed at providing that training.”
CoWorks co-founder Turner, a Huntington native, founded his business coaching and training firm, Epic Mission, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2013. He said when he told colleagues there he planned to move back home to Huntington, they predicted he soon would be broke and out of business.
Instead of going under, his business has thrived in Huntington, Turner said. “And CoWorks is the perfect place for Epic Mission’s needs.”
Shaw, another West Virginia Native, began a small marketing company called Scaleable Ventures. It quickly found success coaching and supporting a variety of businesses, both new and existing.
Turner and Shaw teamed up to make CoWorks a reality.
Huntington’s JP Morgan Chase building was built by the former First Huntington National Bank in 1977 to replace its aging 1916 building. Today, the 80,000-square-foot, three-story structure is owned by Huntington attorney and real estate developer John Hankins. Chase Bank occupies only about 18,000 square feet of space on the ground level in the rear of the building.
Hewett praised Hankins’ enthusiastic cooperation and support in the launching of CoWorks. “John Hankins has done a huge favor for Huntington by dedicating his time and money to helping us make CoWorks a reality,” she said.
CoWorks is home to a video production firm, Montani Films, and a podcasting studio opened by Justin McElroy, a Huntington resident whose podcasts have won him national recognition.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said they view CoWorks as a valuable addition to the city’s business landscape.
“Entrepreneurship is what Huntington is all about,” Williams said.
Bissett labeled the venture “a much-needed business resource that will help our growing community of entrepreneurs thrive here in Huntington. It gives us another valuable asset to assist both present and future businesses.”
For more information, visit coworkswv.com.
Slated to open in March, the new Buckannon Innovation Center has been designed to supply coworking space and flex office space for rent on a month-to-month basis.The center is a project of the Upshur County Development Authority. When it’s complete, it is envisioned to play a key role in helping local entrepreneurs get their small businesses off the ground, said UCDA Executive Director Rob Hinton.
“We are in the infancy stages of the extinction of what we know as traditional jobs — not all jobs, but a large portion of those jobs, similar to that of the telephone switchboard operator and/or the elevator operator, both of which were cannibalized by that era’s automation movement,” he said. “Now, this will not happen overnight, but it will happen quickly, and it’s our job to make sure we are putting the right resources in place, developing the skills that will be demanded in a 21st-century economy.
“We must create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that rivals those in Boston and even in Silicon Valley right here in West Virginia,” Hinton added. “It’s possible, and we need to believe that it’s possible.”
The innovation center will also be a professional, modern space with fiber gigabit connectivity, hopefully transforming Buckhannon into a gigabit city. Gigabit internet — one gigabit is 1,000 megabits — is the next generation high-speed internet that delivers internet over fiber optic lines, Hinton said. Fiber gigabit connectivity would provide an incentive for major corporations and businesses to locate branches, or “back offices,” in the area.
“The combination allows for us to have an increased opportunity to recruit back office operations to locate in the space provided,” he said.
“This is a reality: Major corporations are looking to locate back office operations outside of high-cost metro areas to more low-cost and less congested areas where their employees can actually afford to live. West Virginia has an enormous opportunity if we decide collectively to embrace the change, to pivot and capture these opportunities in a rapidly changing environment.”
The UCDA got word in August 2016 that it had been awarded a $2.2 million grant to construct the Innovation Center through the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“More and more small businesses are starting in Putnam County, and many of them are running out of a dining room rather than a boardroom,” said Ashley Alford, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. “The owners of those small businesses needed a place to meet clients and hold meetings.”“That’s what prompted us to create Area 34,” Alford said.
Located on busy W.Va. Route 34 in Hurricane (hence the catchy name), Area 34 is near the Winfield exit of Interstate 64 and across the highway from the main Putnam County Public Library.
It features a communal coworking space, a cozy lounge, rental offices and conference rooms and even a handy coffee shop. The building’s anchor tenants include the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, the Putnam County Development Authority, and the Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Area 34, Alford said, has been designed as a convenient, state-of-the-art venue for business startups, individuals, home-based businesses and others who need a professional working environment.
“The idea behind the coworking space is to give startups, entrepreneurs and home-based businesses a professional setting to be able to grow their business,” Alford said.
“If you’re brand new and just getting your feet on the ground, you can’t really afford to go into a full lease for office space — or, you might not even need a full office space, but you do need a place to meet with potential clients or customers,” she said.
The Area 34 coworking spaces are available for a monthly fee or via a day pass. The membership rates are $200 a month for an individual or single-person business. Corporate coworking memberships are $400 a month, “and that includes three employees,” Alford said. A coworking day pass is $20. Area 34 coworking members get key fobs to the building so they can use the space anytime they want.
For more information about coworking at Area 34, call 304-757-6510, or visit area34coworking.com.
The state’s newest coworking facility, Loft Office Coworking and Loft Conference Center at Granville Square in Morgantown, had its grand opening Feb. 6.Horizon Properties Principal Mike Swisher said the project, located across from the Monongalia County Ballpark in the University Town Centre, is the company’s fifth coworking location.
“The transition has been that a lot of corporations are downsizing and having less square footage dedicated to individuals. There are even a lot of people now working from home, so the demand for a different type of workplace has really changed,” Swisher said. “So many people don’t necessarily work in traditional offices anymore. They prefer spaces that are more wide open with other amenities, like cafes. So coworking has really taken off.”
He explained the space will offer lease options ranging from multi-office suites and single offices down to desk space or open access, which allows you to work wherever you find an open seat. The space is scheduled, paid for and accessed through the client’s smartphone.
“We use a lot of technology and automation, which allows us to offer space, reasonably priced, with 24/7 access,” Swisher said.
The Morgantown coworking facility is part of a new mixed-use development that includes a 115-room Hampton Inn and Suites and a 40,000-square-foot multitenant office building.