I hope that you had a chance to read the recent article on coworking in IEDC’s EDnow newsletter (It’s only available to members, so if you are an IEDC member, you can grab it here). It goes into some depth on the phenomenon of coworking and what it means to economic development. If you don’t already understand the concept of coworking, you can learn more by reading the article, checking out Deskmag, attending the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (shameless plug: I’ll be speaking about specialization in collaborative work environments), or better yet: VISIT A COWORKING SPACE AND LEARN WHAT THEY ARE UP TO.
I think the author (Michael Stumpf) did a pretty good job of describing the concept to the economic development community. He makes the case for paying attention to the type of firm that one typically finds operating in a coworking space and describes the technologies that permit a space to exist. I think he trips, however in his understanding of the core operating principle of a space like this, and I think it’s important that economic development professionals understand that principle. I also want to expand on what economic development professionals are looking for from coworking spaces, for those without access to the article.
The quickest and easiest way for economic development professionals to understand the core value of coworking to the entrepreneurial community that spends time in their geography is to read Alex Hillman’s blog, Dangerously Awesome and specifically his series of posts covering the core values: sustainability, community, collaboration, accessibility and openness. Alex really covered it in depth and you need to do a deep dive as an economic developer before you decide that you are going to “open a coworking space” in your town. It simply does not work that way. This goes back to the question of we as governmental (or quasi-governmental) actors are leaders or feeders. The entrepreneurial community must drive the development of a space. You cannot build it for them.
So people running coworking spaces and contributing to that community need to first understand that economic development professionals want to help you and you cannot blame them for that, even if you don’t really need their help. Most economic developers want to help you because they are counting on your firm to grow and improve wealth-creating opportunities for the people in the community/geography that they serve. This might be in your company’s mission, but if it’s not don’t blame the economic developer for following his programming, but do understand it. Recognize also that the bulk of people working in economic development that have an interest in coworking are coming from a different place than the back room good old boys. They genuinely want to be involved and it would probably benefit everyone in the community to find ways for economic development people to contribute. Remember accessibility.
So economic development, this is something that you can be a part of, but you have to do it on the coworking community’s terms.