The Venue will offer coworking office space for entrepreneurs
Gadsden Times/ USA Today
Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority Director David Hooks says Phase 4 of the Coosa Landing development could be completed by the end of the year, and available to offer work space for those who need a physical address, but don’t need a full-fledged brick-and-mortar location of their own.
The plans for Phase 4 will be divided into four basic components, Hooks said, with 25% of space dedicated for each:
- Office space for the Gadsden Etowah County Industrial Development Authority
- Operating space for the East Central Area Health Education Council (the organization that staged the RAM clinic in April)
- Coworking space for existing and start-up businesses
- Common space
Coworking space — a primer
The website Tech Target defines coworking as “a business services provision model that involves individuals working independently or collaboratively in shared office space. The typical user of a coworking facility is self-employed, a telecommuter or a freelance worker.”
The founder of the movement, according to Coworking.com, was Brad Neuberg, a San Francisco software engineer, who sought “the freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others.”
Hooks envisions providing space and basic equipment for people who are starting out a new business, and to people who may work in multiple areas who need office space when they are working in this area.
“I talked to one of our hospital CEOs, and he said he knew of 10 pharmaceutical reps,” Hooks said, who would be interested in that kind of arrangement.
With that increase in work-from-home employment, he said, there may be a great many people who primarily work at home, but sometimes need a place to work “away from the kids and the dogs.”
Think of it as the business equivalent of a gym membership, Hooks said. People pay a monthly fee to be able to come in and use the space and provided equipment when they need it, with key cards for secure entry.
As part of of equipping the space to be built-out, the IDA will provide $200,000 in capital investment for equipment to give people the online environment they need. Users of the space would have access 365 days a year to multimedia learning tools in real time to create a virtual learning and workspace, Hooks said, with all equipment staying in the building.
Hooks said it’s not set, but he thinks user fees might be in the $100 to $150 range for such partners. For a more permanent work space, the fee would be more.
If a user needs space for a meeting while working in the area, Hooks said, the facility also will have small meeting rooms for rent.
Hooks said that won’t compete with the meeting space The Venue rents; it would be for smaller groups, such as groups of 25 or less.
He said he doesn’t see the project as competition for a planned business incubator/coworking space in Gadsden’s old Coca-Cola building — that there is room for more than one such facility to assist new and existing businesses in the city.
Birmingham has five to 10 coworking space facilities, Hooks said, depending on how you define coworking.
Most major metropolitan areas have them; for smaller cities like Gadsden, they are not as common — for now.
Hooks said the IDA board looked at similar facilities in other cities when determining what is needed in Gadsden, including The Forge, located in the Pizitz building in Birmingham, and Innovation Depot.
The original estimate for the project was $1.7 million; the bid came in at $1.4 million.
Hooks said the IDA is working with Gadsden State Community College to identify health care careers and to provide the courses needed to train people to fill them.
Developing health care as an industrial sector in the city and county will be a specific focus for the future, he said. In 2019, the IDA board identified it as a target market, along with its original four: automotive, advanced manufacturing, metal working and aviation.
GSCC President Kathy Murphy said she’s excited about the collaboration and engagement in a new project, as the college continues to work to be a support to the community.
GSCC Dean of Health Sciences Ken Kirkland said the college is working to develop programs that will secure jobs for area residents. He pointed out that one health care job can have the cascading effect of creating additional jobs — for a nurse, an LPN and other related positions.
Hooks said in terms of recruitment, he sees potential not only for more health care providers, but also the industrial side of health care — the manufacture and maintenance of medical equipment.
The lease agreement with the city will see the IDA paying $4,000 per month. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Hooks told a council member in response to a question that the authority had paid The Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County $4,530 per month this year for rent and utilities in the building they share at 1 Commerce Square.
For the previous 30 years of that arrangement, the IDA paid $125 a month in rent, plus utilities that brought its costs to about $1,300 a month.
Hooks said the rent was not a key reason for the IDA’s relocation. He said the authority needs to establish its own identity, and the change will help with that.
He said if the authority is going to pay rent, he favors the idea of paying it to the City of Gadsden, which is its main funding source.
It’s an approach David Bronner, who heads the Alabama Retirement Systems, has taken: if the RSA rents property, it rents from the State of Alabama whenever possible.