In larger cities, coworking spaces-- a shared "office" for remote workers, small start ups, writers and freelance professionals with a creative, communal feel-- have been popular for more than a decade. Coworking spaces often cultivate innovation and inspiration simply by the energy of independent work happening within them. That's why HARBOR Inc.'s newly formed "ROHO" (remote office/home office) team is looking to open just such a space in downtown Harbor Springs as soon as summer, 2017.
"We launched ROHO with an informal meetup to begin building a network for our area's home-based workers. We wanted to be a support project, to help these folks be more successful and more strongly-connected to our area," said HARBOR Inc. board member Bill Mulder.
When more than 20 people showed up for the first meeting, Mulder and HARBOR Inc. executive director Rachel Smolinski both said almost everyone echoed the same need: a coworking space.
"It was very clear from the get-go that this is something people would love to see happen. We weren't expecting to have such a definite project right away, but the people who attended our meetup really got us excited about this possibility," she said.
"We have a vision for the Harbor Springs area. We want it to be known as the very best place in Michigan to be a remote or home office worker," Mulder added, noting such professional communities lead to a more vibrant business climate.
"The coworking space is visible evidence that our area values remote and home based workers so much that we are willing to invest in their success. Someone considering moving here full time can picture working in a pleasant, professional environment, rather than a lonely home office. It also creates a quick way for a new person to feel that they belong to a community," he said.
Wanting to capitalize and build on the enthusiasm of the initial ROHO meeting, HARBOR Inc. has been moving quickly to conceptualize a coworking space. Initial estimates for a downtown Harbor Springs venue are $110,000 for build out and three years of operation, at which point the goal is for it to be a self-sustaining space. Membership and daily usage fees would fund the rest of the initial costs.
As a not-for-profit space tied in with HARBOR Inc., a coworking venue would have all the key components of a successful creativity hub: stellar internet connectivity, modern decor, a communal space, open desks/work areas, as well as private "cubicle"-like working spaces, a conference room, breakout room and small kitchen.
"We want to create a professional, productive work environment, while also providing opportunities to network and connect with other people," Mulder said. "There are a number of these coworking spaces in Michigan's metro areas, and the (ROHO) group feels that Harbor Springs should take the lead in our part of the state."
Members of the coworking space will have an access code to allow them to use the office anytime, day or night. Daily memberships will also be available for folks in town for a shorter period of time who would like a designated place to work.
"Working at home can be isolating. Nothing beats face-to-face casual interaction for solving problems, stimulating new ideas, and making business connections. Many great ideas have been hatched at the office coffee machine," Smolinski said.
She added that interest in a coworking space was so strong, the team is actively seeking a spot to lease with the goal of opening the doors by this summer.
"We do have some possible spaces identified, but we will need to move quickly," Mulder noted. "We're looking to fundraise for the initial costs, and we'd love to connect with people who are interesting in donating or helping to create this space for Harbor Springs."
HARBOR Inc. will continue to host meetups locally for the ROHO group to continue growing its network. For more information on plans to create a coworking space, or to make a donation to this project, please contact Mulder or Smolinski: firstname.lastname@example.org; email email@example.com or call the HARBOR Inc. office, 231-526-5060.