It is heartening to report that state and local governments are finally acknowledging the fact that their involvement is important in the development of successful and community oriented coworking spaces.
Workspace owners and operators have previously had to seek out funding using “traditional” methods such as private accelerators/incubators, angel investors, previous startup savings and/or friends and family in order to get up and running.
However, a few weeks ago, the state of Maine passed a bill to infuse $300,000 into the Maine Coworking Development Fund.
The fund was created in 2015 to provide state funding for the development of coworking spaces throughout the state. According to the Maine legislative website, this fund was “established to strengthen opportunities for entrepreneurship, stimulate innovation in the state by increasing the availability of collaborative workspace environments and address a regional market demand for affordable work environments that support communication and networking opportunities.”
This bill is encouraging innovation; and by investing in the development of coworking spaces, the state is fulfilling a void common across the country. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) has strong justification for why his constituents and the state at-large need government to play a role in the local coworking market.
“These spaces are integral to the state’s economic future,” Fecteau explains. “Maine has an estimated 15,000 remote workers and has an aging population. One of its leading economic forces is tourism. Coworking spaces provide remote workers with supportive work environments, attract young people, and could very well extend the stays of visitors to the state,” he added.
With midterm elections virtually around the corner, Rep. Fecteau and the other Maine legislators aren’t the only elected officials who see value in connecting government resources with local coworking operators. United States Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey recently visited Kearny Point, a coworking space that is part of a six-building, 3 million square foot redevelopment effort to reinvigorate that county’s unused commercial assets.
He made clear that “government can play a role in helping places like Kearny Point survive, by offering tax credits and spending to create infrastructure private companies cannot afford to do on their own.”
“We’re thrilled that Senator Menendez shares our vision for a work environment that’s designed to encourage creation through collaboration,” said Nick Shears, Director of Leasing at Keary Point. “We fully support the notion that, in conjunction with developers that are willing to break the mold of the traditional office space model, the state can help to attract and grow new businesses in collaborative facilities like these in New Jersey,” Shears added.
Over the past decade, lawmakers within the United States government have tried to pass federal legislation to incentivize employers to promote telecommuting–the act of being able to work from anywhere with an internet connection. Their argument is to prove that it makes economic sense to simultaneously install internet cables as new infrastructure is being built to help more and more people get online and connect with their employers. That way, employers would have the option to decrease the costs of office overhead while employees are able to work from anywhere they feel most productive, including the growing number of coworking spaces.
But never have we seen a collective state-wide effort to specifically target and grow local coworking spaces. “It’s clear that the way jobs were once done has changed significantly. States seeking to be competitive in encouraging entrepreneurship and adapting to a growing remote workforce will make continuous investments in programs like these,” Rep. Fecteau further explained.
The progress that has stemmed from Rep. Fecteau’s state bill could certainly fuel and re-boot the federal government’s effort to address the rise of the independent workforce and with that, ignite a viable funding method for the country’s entire coworking industry.