Though I’m a “young, hip” millennial that offices in a coworking space, there’s no slant in saying that coworking is more than a fad in Kansas City.
It’s a serious — and growing — business segment in the area.
In the next 18 to 24 months, the metro will be welcoming more than 300,000 square feet of coworking space for entrepreneurs, startups and larger companies.
Get this: In April, the largest coworking space in the world, Plexpod Westport Commons, will open its doors to a 160,000 square foot space. That project also has a phase II that could add up to 200,000 more square feet. Later this summer, WeWork will open its 40,000 square foot space. In addition, Level Office announced it’s opening a 45,000 square-foot coworking hub in downtown Kansas City.
Pair that with its already established coworking spots and Kansas City is building out significant shared space capacity.
For Startland News’ March Innovation Exchange event, the conversation focused on real estate and entrepreneurship with experts analyzing the local coworking surge.
Hosted in partnership with Think Big, the event welcomed real estate experts like Bob Berkebile, principal emeritus of BNIM, David Brain, founder of Brown Cow Capital and Katy Sullivan, a design consultant at Contract Furnishings. The conversation also included new and old coworking faces, including co-founder of Edison Spaces Matt Druten, Sarah Fustine, director of strategic partnerships at Think Big and Adam Wacenske, general manager of WeWork’s southern region.
Here’s a bit more from the conversation.
Freelancers now make up over 35 percent of the workforce in the United States.
“There’s a lot of data available about the transition of the workforce,” said David Brain, who previously was the CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. “From permanent, long-term employees to more session, engagement, contract employees — a lot of people are working in a more independent fashion.”
Brain said he began to realize that there was no suitable capacity for housing those operations in an optimal and productive way. This introduced Brain to the concept of coworking.
“When we started exploring this and started connecting those dots, I was just amazed at how few people were connecting the dots from the transition of the workforce,” Brain said. “It wasn’t a hidden fact.”
Although many freelancers and independent contractors may take to coffee shops or work from home, many people want the community and inspiration that coworking affords.
“BNIM has been intentionally designing accidental connections,” Bob Berkebile said. “People talk about ‘collisions’ and you can call it whatever you want but if you put more diversity and more people in a more interesting space — you get a lot better outcome. You get a lot more collaboration.”
Berkebile said that density and diversity spurs serendipity that you may not find in a typical work environment. That that culture is the core of coworking, he said.
“With coworking, it’s not just collaborative, but everyone works for a different employer,” Berkebile said. “When you put people together that work for different employers, the culture is so authentic. There is just not the tensions that you feel when you’re working for the same employer.”
Berkebile added that he believes coworking is one of the main venues from which a “new culture of work” will emerge. With designs like open spaces, glass walls, booths and couches — coworking says goodbye to the cubicle.
Sarah Fustine and Katy Sullivan agreed that multifunctionality is key for designing a coworking space.
“People are beginning to treat their offices a bit more like their home,” Sullivan said. “It’s past friendship — it’s cohabitation that happens when you’re there everyday most of the day.”
In the next two years, there will be 300,000 square feet of coworking space coming online to the metro area Berkebile and Brain agreed that Kansas Citians’ demand will meet supply.
“I expect there’s a lot of pent-up demand and a lot of interest that has not yet manifested,” Brain said. “The business community will respond to the capacity of the system as it sets itself up in front of them.”
Scaling what’s already working
Seeing an opportunity, Berkebile and others wanted to take coworking to a larger scale, and thus took to transform the historic Westport Middle School.
“As we were asking people in the community what’s missing, we kept hearing that we needed more energy, resources and diversity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Berkebile said. “Great things were happening at the Startup Village, but people wanted ten times that scale.”
Berkebile added that he believes Plexpod Westport Commons will be an attractive resource to people far outside of the community.
“I think it (coworking) is a game-changer, and that’s one reason I got really interested in it,” Berkebile said. “Not just entrepreneurs, but many people are going to be moving from the old frame of a work environment to the new. That’s what we’re seeing.”
The vision of the Plexpod Westport Commons is to provide a facility for the sharing economy and break down silos. With the vision to bring more vitality to the Hyde park area, phase two of the Plexpod Westport Commons project will begin in the spring.
A global network
The March announcement of the new WeWork space at Corrigan Station means that Kansas City has entered a global network of coworking spaces. Adam Wacenske, general manager of WeWork’s southern region, said that all 100,000 WeWork members can pop into any of the 130 locations worldwide.
Despite being small, Wacenske said that Kansas City was a good fit for WeWork culture, nodding to the metro’s interconnected, friendly community.
“Regardless of the size, there is a sense of community and collaboration here — that’s what WeWork looks for,” Wacenske said. “We aim to facilitate what’s already happening here, connecting Kansas City entrepreneurs outward.”
Wacenske said that the goal of WeWork is to give all members the resources, tools and space to do business globally. The more spaces they open, the better benefit for all users, he said.
“There is a massive shift in society from chasing a 9 to 5 job, to chasing meaning and collaboration,” Wacenske said. Coworking is helping to accelerate that shift.”
Tackling other markets
Downtown coworking is not a fit for everyone, and Matt Druten, co-founder of Edison Spaces, wants to tackle a different market.
“We plan on staying in the suburbs,” Druten said. “We want to attack a completely different market, and we believe it’s untapped out there.”
Edison Spaces is designed with a little more privacy than traditional coworking, yet still maintains a common area. Druten said he wants to adapt to the changing market, but bring a product to the suburbanites who don’t want to commute or deal with a parking hassle.
Avoiding the traditional five- to ten-year lease, Edison Spaces leases operate on a month-to-month basis. Its first location opened in Leawood in November, and Druten is eyeing areas like Lee’s Summit and North Kansas City for the firm’s expansion. Druten plans to open a second space within the year.