In the April 25 issue of Seven Days, we explored how Vermont businesses, from lone freelancers to major employers such as National Life Group, are thinking outside the conventional cubicle ("Spaces To Roam"). We also noted a growing trend: the creation of so-called "professional coworking spaces" — such as Office Squared (O2) in downtown Burlingtion — that serve Vermonters who need a worksspace that's more than a converted bedroom but less than a permanent office suite.
This week I got word that Local 64, a proposed coworking space mentioned in that story, is now up and running on the second floor at 5 State Street, in downtown Montpelier (see photo). Owner Lars Hasselbrad Torres reports that the space, which he describes as "one part hive, another part lounge," already has 21 members, with plenty of room to grow. Local 64 will also host a solo art show opening on Friday, July 6, for art enthusiasts and/or other folks interested in checking out the space and possibly joining as members.
Need more incentive to drop in? O2 founder and owner Jen Mincar has been talking with her own members and Torres about the possibility of creating a "coworking visa" that allows her members to work in Torres' space, and vice versa. So, when O2 members are in Montpelier they can use Local 64 as an auxilliary office where they can check email, make phone calls, meet clients or just work on their laptops. Likewise, when Local 64 members visit the Queen City, they can drop by one of O2's two downtown locations and do the same.
While the plan is still under discussion, Mincar reports that she broached the idea with her members and "they LOVED it." Presumably, if this trend continues to grow in Vermont, other coworking spaces around the state could shack up with similar arrangements — a Vermont Coworking Co-op perhaps?
It's safe to predict this trend will have legs. As Torres points out on the Local 64 website, Vermont has the fifth highest startup rate in the country. Some 14,000 Vermonters — or 4.5 percent of our workforce — hold jobs in the "creative cluster," which includes artists, designers, writers, architects, developers, filmmakers. And many of these folks have nomadic work habits, carrying their offices and communication devices wherever they go.
"The Central Vermont region can claim a significant slice of this creative entrepreneurship that contributes to the economic and cultural vitality and quality of life in the region, and beyond. Washington County alone has a startup rate of approximately 50 new businesses per 10,000 people each year. With an average annual job growth rate of 3.9 percent, Washington County boasts 2,992 small businesses and 6,068 sole proprietorships."
Learn more about coworking spaces at this coworking wiki — or better yet, drop by O2 and/or Local 64. Hey, it sure beat checking your email in a McDonald's parking lot.