Working together: Officials develop plan for initiative

After years spent envisioning a space where budding entrepreneurs could get their start, Franklin city leaders are launching a plan to open a co-working space downtown this year.

A home for the co-working space, where small business owners or consultants without a local office could set up shop, hasn’t been found. An annual operating budget hasn’t been set and no entrepreneurs have signed on. But city leaders, including the mayor and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, know there is a need and have started securing the money needed to get the project started.

The project is a joint initiative of the city and the chamber.

For starters, the local non-profit groups that typically receive the city’s economic development fees have agreed to devote the fees to the start-up costs for the co-working space. That $26,000 will pay for establishing the by-laws, incorporation documents and other legal expenses.

Those fees are paid voluntarily by certain business that receive tax breaks, and in other years have been given by the city as grants to groups involved in economic development. All those groups have written letters of support for devoting the money this year to starting a co-working space.

Now the organizers need to find 2,800 to 3,200 square feet of space as close to the Johnson County Courthouse as possible, sort out long-term operational funding and hire one employee for operations, marketing and programs, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness and the city’s director of community development, Krista Linke, said.

The goal is to open in August.

The redevelopment commission, which manages money collected in the city’s tax-increment financing districts, will be asked to help pay for remodeling or outfitting whatever building is found, McGuinness said. One goal is to avoid taking another building off the property tax rolls, McGuinness said, but that may be necessary because the space will serve as an economic catalyst for the city.

Ongoing operating costs could be covered by corporate sponsors and the fees that businesses or entrepreneurs pay for access to the space.

The Franklin co-working space could become part of the Launch Indiana co-working passport program. Members of that program can use any of the more than 30 co-working sites across Indiana.

The organization would be governed by a nine-member board of directors and fall under the Franklin Development Corp., a tax-funded nonprofit group set up by the city to promote downtown development and redevelopment.

The board of directors would include McGuinness, Linke, two entrepreneurs, the chairperson of the Franklin Development Corp., a member of the city’s redevelopment commission and a member appointed by the mayor and by the board.

Franklin plans to model the financing and organization of its co-working space after the program in Lafayette called the MatchBOX Co-Working Studio. Lafayette had 250 members two years after opening and boasts 24/7 secure access, high-speed Internet and conference rooms and bills itself as a shared space to work and create. Members pay anywhere from $25 per month to $500 per year for access to the space.

The co-working space works because it gives entrepreneurs access to office equipment and meeting rooms that they may not be able to afford as their businesses get their start. Business owners who work from home or whose main office is located far away could also use the space.

Determining just how much demand there is for such a space in Franklin will require launching the program and gathering data.

“There’s no scientific way to know how many people would use this space,” Linke said. “We just want to start off conservatively and have room to grow as needed.”

A lesson learned from other community’s co-working space is to remain constantly flexible and tailor the Franklin co-working site to the demands of the people who come forward needing the space, such as lawyers who need to be near the courthouse.

“The main allure of this kind of space is getting all of these people together who can kind of work off of each other,” Linke said.

One parameter for the possible demand is how often the Franklin chamber is contacted by people who need a small room to conduct a meeting or interview a person.

“I do believe that there is a need in this community,” Franklin Chamber of Commerce executive director Janice Bullman said.

Members of the chamber had been studying the concept when they learned that McGuinness and city officials were championing the cause, so the two organizations joined together.

“It’s good for our economy, but it’s also good for business development, because more and more individuals are working in a different environment, and they don’t necessarily need a building of their own, because of technology and because of all the different resources out there,” Bullman said. “But the availability of some space might serve them well. We’re looking at all the pieces and how it might fit best for this community.”

At a glance

Franklin co-working initiative

What: A co-working space where members pay a fee for access to office space and conference rooms without taking on the expenses of setting up their own office

Organizers: City of Franklin, Franklin Chamber of Commerce, Franklin Development Corp.

Location: Searching for a spot near downtown

Goal: Open in August

Author photo
Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.