This week’s blog is an article from South Carolina’s Rural Innovation Network. Click here to view the original article.
Before the pandemic, coworking spaces were on the rise, with the flexibility they offered
appealing to workers across industries. While the coworking trend began in major cities, it
has spread to rural regions as well; Proximity, a coworking software platform (and one
that received investment from the CORI Innovation Fund), had more than 250 rural
spaces in its network in 2020.
Coming out of the pandemic, coworking spaces will play a key role in rural economic
success. When CORI works with rural communities, we take a comprehensive approach
to developing digital economy ecosystem strategies. We see Coworking and
Entrepreneurship Spaces as part of a community’s “Necessary Infrastructure”—the
components that allow a place to compete in the digital economy.
To learn more about how rural coworking spaces make an impact, we spoke with Kate
Schwarzler, founder of Indy Commons, a coworking space and business hub in
Independence, OR—one of our Rural Innovation Network Communities. Below we share
Kate’s top 4 reasons why coworking matters in small-town communities.
Why rural coworking matters
1. Coworking spaces improve the local business community and make Main Street
Coworking provides more than just space to work. A successful space can offer resources
to the business community, make connections that advance local commerce, and host
events that foster a stronger business climate. Many remote workers or sole proprietors
often have to work from home or from less expensive locations outside the town center
since paying higher rent doesn’t make business sense. A downtown coworking space,
however, can give people like this an opportunity to work on Main Street in the center of
the action—both better incorporating these talented people into the community and driving
traffic and business to other nearby shops.
2. Coworking spaces can create community, especially in a post-COVID environment
for remote workers
It’s easy to see coworking as simply selling desks, selling wifi, or selling a coffee pot. But
in reality, coworking spaces are about selling a sense of community—and one where
people can actively participate. Coworking spaces can serve as the home base for groups
of like-minded individuals and businesses that want to combine flexibility with the social
camaraderie of the traditional office. Knowing that there are people dealing with similar
issues, people to bounce ideas around with, people to learn from and share opportunities
with—the benefits are huge. This is especially true for remote workers in rural areas, who
often don’t have outlets to connect with or even find each other. With a coworking space
as a central hub, this community of talented people can build social bonds at a place
where they can also advance their careers.
3. Coworking spaces create new kinds of opportunities in rural areas that improve
quality of life
Rural areas are known for their high quality of life: beautiful scenery, strong communities,
open space, lower costs of living, and more. But too often, people don’t see these towns
as places for a career. With a strong coworking presence, rural communities can have
both. Coworking spaces offer a home for remote workers and longtime residents alike
looking to connect in new ways. As Kate put it, the opportunities presented by rural
coworking “allow people to write their own life, plan their own life, and realize they can live
in these amazing rural areas while also having a career that is fulfilling and exciting.” By
adding this integral component to local ecosystems, coworking spaces both expand and
tap into existing community assets to create a more diversified and sustainable
4. Coworking spaces can elevate a culture of entrepreneurship to the next level
A rural coworking space will is more likely to succeed when it has the support of the
community. That takes legwork, because, often, coworking is a new concept to many small
towns. But if the town culture is one that encourages experimentation, innovation, and
forward-thinking, then with time, coworking spaces can be seen for the assets they are.
This is most true when the community has a culture of inclusive technology, with an active
effort made to encourage all groups to participate and be celebrated. With this culture and
physical space both in place, communities can build on their coworking infrastructure to
lay the groundwork for a stronger digital economy ecosystem that drives entrepreneurship
and local business success.
Kate’s story and her space at Indy Commons form a prime example of putting these
principles into practice. She grew up in a very small town in Oregon, and she often heard
that places like hers just didn’t have good jobs, so she would have to leave to look for a
career. She got tired of hearing that, so when she returned to rural Oregon in
Independence, she had a mission: create a space that builds the community and lets
people form careers they’re proud of from the small town they loved. As Indy Commons
has grown, it’s always kept the community at its core, becoming a space with shared
resources, shared expertise, and a shared sense of potential for an inclusive local
Rural places everywhere should share in this insight—and build their own coworking
spaces too, forming the foundation of a strong digital economy ecosystem to come.