HARBOR SPRINGS — A beautiful northern Michigan resort city like Harbor Springs is likely to attract people who can work from anywhere, so they work from their homes.
Now, a new nonprofit coworking space will give them someplace else to make a living and build their businesses.
Developers of The Loft, a 1,400-square-foot coworking space on the second floor of 152 E. Main St. in downtown harbor Springs, say they intend the place as a venue where work-at-home entrepreneurs and remote employees can expand their work spaces.
“I’m a fairly new full-time resident to the Harbor Springs area, and I’ve been a remote worker in a number of positions throughout my career,” said Bill Mulder, a board member of Harbor Inc., a nonprofit community and technology development company in Harbor Springs “Working from home can be productive and effective, but it can also be lonely and isolating. The Loft invites people to get out of their basements and into a social, fun working environment, especially on dark winter days.”
The Loft offers high-speed internet, a friendly, open space to network, and places to telework, including three stand-up desks.
Rachel Smolinski is executive director of Harbor Inc. She said she’s been kicking around ideas for a long time about the best way to connect with the growing number of remote and at-home workers, more commonly referred to as teleworkers.
“We knew that there were quite a few home-based workers in the area,” Smolinski said. “There are a fairly large number of individuals working out of their homes as employees or running their own business.”
Harbor Inc. partnered with Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program through its local subsidiary, Connect Michigan. The program surveys a community’s businesses, residents, providers, and others and works with a local planning team of champions to come up with a community-specific Technology Action Plan.
In 2015, Connect Michigan released a paper that looked at the potential impact of remote workers for the state. The group found that “rural telework centers can serve as a symbol of community vibrancy, improving quality of life and catalyzing economic development and community revitalization. As a result, communities are able to attract permanent residents and temporary visitors to their locations, as well as prevent current residents from departing.”
Addressing how to connect with remote workers is something that Harbor Springs’ leaders looked at while completing their Technology Action Plan, and providing a central location for those workers has since become something they’ve embraced.
“In our plan we didn’t mention that we’d set up a co-working space, but we knew that we were going to support these home-based businesses,” Smolinski said. “Over the last six months, this idea came to light and all the pieces really fell into place. Now, I’m sitting here talking to you from our co-working space.”
Added Mulder: “We also had to think about if we could ultimately use this space and our community’s awareness of business people as a way to recruit new full-time residents — people who can work from anywhere — to Harbor Springs. We would just love to see more full time residents who can bring their jobs with them and add even more vitality to our community. The real win would be to see more families here and more children enrolling in our wonderful schools.”
Smolinski also hopes The Loft will benefit other downtown businesses by bringing more people to the area that would then stay for a movie and dinner or simply have lunch during their work day.
The Loft had its soft opening Friday, Sept. 1, and in its first week it already had 11 members sign up to use the space regularly. Another 35 people say they’ll sign up as “drop in” users.
Options for using the space include a monthly membership of $125 or a drop-in daily rate of $20. The monthly membership gives users permission to use the space any time, day or night. To sign up, complete a membership application and choose a payment option at www.harborspringsloft.work.
“My hope is that we’ll have enough interest and members to make this workspace sustainable,” Smolinski said. “I hope it becomes something that’s recreated in other downtowns. In a perfect world, I would like to see these desks full of workers every day.”
Harbor Inc. is a nonprofit formed as a result of grass-roots effort by concerned local citizens focusing on technology development, recreation and alternative transportation, and community engagement and development. It serves residents and property owners of the city of Harbor Springs and the townships of Cross Village, Friendship, Little Traverse, Pleasantview, Readmond, and West Traverse. More at www.harborinc.org.
Connected Nation is a technology organization committed to bringing affordable high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans so no one is left on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. More at www.connectednation.org.