Franklin mayor considers coworking space for business owners

May 17, 2016

The mayor of Franklin wants more entrepreneurs and small, local business owners operating their businesses out of the downtown area near coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance of their offices.

But many of those professionals are running their businesses alone or with a small staff  and don't have a need for a full-time office and can work just as easily from home or at a coffee shop. And for some who are just starting their business, monthly costs for a permanent office space, utilities and equipment are just too high.

Mayor Joe McGuinness said he's approached daily by people who would love to work in downtown Franklin, he said. And some of those people are starting from scratch, with nothing more than a lot of ideas and a dream, McGuinness said.

Now, McGuinness is looking into a solution dozens of other communities have used, which allows small businesses and business owners in multiple industries to share space. About 50 co-working, or shared, office spaces exist in Indiana, and McGuinness wants to bring one to downtown Franklin.

"Workspace sharing is the thing of the future. For younger professionals, this is where the workforce will be working. Co-working offices have a million statistics, but the studies I have read lead me to believe there is a tremendous opportunity here," McGuinness said.

What has been an idea of McGuinness' for the past several years is now in the early stages of becoming a reality. McGuinness put together a group of local business and government officials to share ideas and develop a blueprint to make downtown Franklin the first co-working office space on the south side.

By locating the shared office downtown, members could meet clients and business partners at nearby restaurants within walking distance from the office, McGuinness said.

But first, officials need to figure out where the office space would go, how it would be paid for without using tax dollars and how it could be operated without any involvement from the city of Franklin.

McGuinness doesn't want the city or the county to pay for the purchase or renovations of a downtown building that would become home to a co-working space in Franklin, he said. This project needs to happen without government involvement, McGuinness said.

In April, McGuinness and others visited MatchBox Coworking Studio, a shared office space in Lafayette, and spent about three hours speaking with its founders, gathering information such as the cost to renovate the building, how that work was funded and what types of businesses are members.

MatchBox wanted to reach about 90 members by the end of its second year. In its second year, the group already has 220 members, including software, real estate, consulting, marketing, human resource, retail, technology and architecture professionals, operations manager Amanda Findlay said.

MatchBox is a not-for-profit run by a board of directors, three co-founders and two employees who handle day-to-day operations, such as planning and hosting events, recruitment and orientations for new members, Findlay said.

But the organization is partially supported with tax dollars.

The shared office was set up under the Lafayette Urban Enterprise Association and the building that MatchBox calls home is owned by the Tippecanoe County Public Library. The office space was a former car dealership that was remodeled and renovated, and the city of Lafayette and Tippecanoe County funded renovations, Findlay said.

MatchBox gets some funding through sponsorship partners in the community, such as local businesses and banks, the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the city of Lafayette, along with money members pay. Members pay $360 per year for 24-hour access to the shared space, Findlay said. New members also pay a $99 setup fee. And an additional $150 per month gives members a reserved desk where they can set up monitors, printers, have a locking filing cabinet and an internet port, Findlay said.

McGuinness said he doesn't want tax dollars to support a local co-working space because he doesn't want the office to have government involvement.

A group of local businesses or organizations, such as the Franklin Chamber of Commerce or the Johnson County Development Corp., could come together to take the lead and start the process of forming a co-working space in Franklin, Franklin Community Schools Superintendent David Clendening said.

Clendening and other officials from Franklin schools, along with students from Franklin College, are assisting McGuinness in the information-gathering process.

They want to know what demand exists in downtown Franklin for a co-working space and the professionals that would use it. The most important aspect of the research is finding out what it costs to operate and maintain one of these facilities, and who will take the lead on creating such a place, Clendening said.

"This needs a very clear vision of what it's going to be. Everybody has all these ideas and everyone is coming together with collective thoughts," Clendening said.

"So, let's make this something we can actually put on paper, thinking through an organized process to figure out where this will go, who will lead it, what is the cost and operating budgets. I see this as a way to draw people into the community. This would be a great opportunity."


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