Coworking's Latest Backer: City Government

The mayor of Santa Cruz is also co-founder of a coworking startup, which he created to bring individual jobs to his city after major companies turned him down.

It's no surprise that the mayor of Santa Cruz, California--just a short ride over the mountains to Silicon Valley--is also a budding entrepreneur. But his first project is more curious. The mayor and the city's former economic development manager have launched a successful coworking startup as a way to attract jobs to Santa Cruz. It's another major feather in the cap of the growing co-working movement.

The startup, dubbed NextSpace, just opened its fourth location in California and recently closed a $700,000 investment round. Why is a mayor getting involved in coworking? "We're an expensive area that doesn't have an airport, and that makes it hard to attract companies," says Ryan Coonerty, co-founder of NextSpace and mayor of Santa Cruz. "We realized after chasing a lot of companies that instead of attracting one 200 person business, we should attract 200 one-person businesses. The economic impact is bigger,  and some of those businesses will grow."

And so NextSpace was born out of a desire to create an infrastructure for all of those one person businesses (and that's not a figure of speech; the Santa Cruz branch of NextSpace does have 200 members). The result: businesses that are adjacent to NextSpace locations have thrived, as independent workers--everyone from sex therapists and comedians to coders and lawyers--patronize them.

Even corporations are becoming intrigued by the coworking movement. At NextSpace, representatives from Ricoh and Plantronics have spent time observing and interviewing workers to gauge interest in potential products. "They are literally studying the way people work. If you're building headsets, they have to be able to work in this new social environment," says Coonerty.

"The 9 to 5 at an office is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, and I think it's a short-lived phenomenon," says Coonerty. "I don't think it makes much sense to have all your people spend 45 minutes in traffic, come in, limit their interactions to each other, and disperse those people out at 5 or 6 at night."

The coworking movement goes far beyond clusters of coders in California. A Deskmag survey found that graphic designers, creative consultants, marketing professionals, journalists, architects, and artists all frequent coworking spaces.

Sam Rosen, a web designer and developer based in Chicago, first learned about coworking after a friend introduced him to Coworking Brooklyn, a space in NYC. He was so inspired that he decided to start his own coworking space, the COOP, in Chicago. The COOP has grown so rapidly in its two year existence that Rosen  moved it into a new location that's three times the size of the old one.

Rosen also recently launched Desktimeapp, a site that pairs people looking for coworking spaces with locations that have availability. So far, there are listings for over 100 spaces in the site's first three launch cities (Chicago, New York, and Austin). "There are people booking and looking for spaces every day," says Rosen.

It's a trend that probably won't let up anytime soon. As the number of telecommuters grows, so does the amount of people who are sick of working in their homes and unfriendly coffee shops. Because as Rosen notes, "In general, people like to work with other people."

[Image: NextSpace]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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2 Comments

  • Andrea Newell

    Excellent! I love this idea, especially since I work at home, but am a little tired of it. Perhaps I should start one in my town. I have a designer friend that wanted to share office space, but I didn't want to be stuck in a lease. I hope this catches on, and more companies expand their telecommuting opportunities.

  • Kristin Eide

    I help run a coworking space called thinkspace, in the Greater Seattle Area. I love reading articles featuring other coworking spaces around the US. As an advocate for the coworking movement, I think coworking is a fantastic option for people who are looking to work in a community with other like-minded biz professionals. Working from home can be distracting and lonely, whereas working in a corporate office may not be an option or is totally unnecessary. Hooray for coworking!