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Aiming to Be a Hub of Activity: ‘Co-Working’ Spaces to Open in Railroad Row

  • Jill Michaels of Community Investments speaks with Dan Evans of Lebanon, N.H., in one of the rooms at Hub WRJ, a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt., on May 16, 2014.  Evans of Dan Evans Consulting Partners is considering using the hub for business. <br/>(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Jill Michaels of Community Investments speaks with Dan Evans of Lebanon, N.H., in one of the rooms at Hub WRJ, a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt., on May 16, 2014. Evans of Dan Evans Consulting Partners is considering using the hub for business.
    (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hub WRJ is a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt.<br/>(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Hub WRJ is a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt.
    (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jill Michaels of Community Investments speaks with Dan Evans of Lebanon, N.H., in one of the rooms at Hub WRJ, a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt., on May 16, 2014.  Evans of Dan Evans Consulting Partners is considering using the hub for business. <br/>(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Hub WRJ is a co-working hub in White River Junction, Vt.<br/>(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

White River Junction — An office space catering to independent workers and small companies is opening on Railroad Row this week.

The initial phase of Hub WRJ, which partially occupies the second floor of 35 Railroad Row, will bring “co-working” spaces to the Upper Valley. These work spaces, part of a rapidly growing national and international trend, offer a desk and support facilities and are targeted to freelance writers and artists, independent technology contractors and fledgling businesses, said Bill Bittinger, the managing partner of Railroad Row LLC, who developed the building.

The co-working hub also will provide an inexpensive secondary location for existing businesses that want a presence in the Upper Valley, he said last week, noting that a lease had been signed for a space with SunCommon, a Waterbury, Vt., solar energy company that wants to manage its overhead while it is expanding in this area. The company is renting two workstations and is expected to move in on Tuesday.

“We think there’s a need for this type of space that offers an independent worker low cost, attractive accommodations with the amenities and the social aspects of a larger office setting,” Bittinger said. “There are a lot of people who are part of the creative economy who are looking for low overhead spaces where they can feel at home, but still have a social setting.”

During the past year, the number of co-workers worldwide has almost doubled, according to a recent survey conducted by Deskmag, an online magazine that focuses on independent workers and small companies.

The average age of co-workers is 34, and two-thirds are men. Slightly more than half are freelancers, and 20 percent are entrepreneurs who employ others. The overwhelming majority work in the field of creative industries and new media, the survey found.

And although about three-quarters of co-workers live in cities with populations larger than 100,000, there is a co-worker boom in rural areas.

Co-working began in the U.S. in the San Francisco area in the late 1990s as a result of the expansion of the independent computer programming industry. At the end of 2012, Deskmag said, there were more than 500 co-working spaces in the United States and 1,300 around the world. The hubs started in Vermont in 2009 in Burlington, and in New Hampshire around Durham at about the same time. There now are a handful of co-working spaces in both states.

The Railroad Row building, which was built in 2009, is 16,800 square feet and certified as energy efficient by the U.S. Green Building Council. Space became available after Casey Family Services closed its New England foster care and adoption services office that was located in the building.

That vacated space, and the renovation of the Hartford Town Hall, have resulted in a transformation of 35 Railroad Row into a resource center much like an economic incubator, Bittinger said.

The Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. and Vermont Small Business Development Center moved from obscure offices in the Town Hall to a permanent, highly visible space on the first floor of 35 Railroad Row. Green Mountain will manage Hub WRJ, and both agencies will work with tenants who need advice, debt and equity financing, and technical services, Green Mountain Executive Director Joan Goldstein said last week.

“We talk to small business people all the time who are working at home and who feel that it’s important to be able to socialize and share ideas with others. The hub provides them with a work environment that is conducive to doing that. They also have a computer conferencing facility and other amenities and services available,” she said.

“It’s a little like an incubator. If they are a really small business and start to grow, we can help them relocate to a larger space in the building or elsewhere. It’s a beautiful space (overlooking the White River) that is really like a small business development center,” Goldstein said.

Hartford also moved its town offices to the top two floors of the building, and Subtext Media, a new business venture that hopes to develop next-generation products for publishers, has moved into a 2,700-square-foot space on the second floor.

Hub tenants can rent two types of workstations in an open space — a larger one with screening panels for $300 a month and the other, a bit smaller and without the panels, for $250 a month, said Jill Michaels, whose company, Community Investments, is marketing the hub.

There’s a certified public accountant on the floor, and The Complete Errand is offering bookkeeping and related administrative services on an a la carte basis. A six-month lease is required.

In addition to the workstations with designated Wi-Fi, tenants have access to a conference room, a space for making confidential telephone calls, a secured locker area and a canteen. There are seven workstations in the hub, Michaels said.

An official open house for the hub is planned for June 6 during First Friday activities in White River Junction.

The changes at 35 Railroad Row are in keeping with the new “sharing economy” that is developing in Vermont, Bittinger said.

Bittinger recently announced plans for a four-story $3.5 million building at Bridge and Main streets that would house a mix of commercial, residential and office tenants, and developer Matt Bucy filed plans for $2.5 million renovation of the 22,500-square-foot American Legion building, which also would house residential, commercial and office tenants and is expected to open later this year. In addition, Northern Stage announced plans to build a $9 million, 250-seat theater at the former Miller Auto site on Gates Street.

“White River Junction is becoming the new commercial center on the Vermont side of the river. It’s attractive to the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses being run by 30- to 40-year-olds and where younger people feel drawn to. It’s part of the new sharing economy,” Bittinger said.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.