Coworking grows more popular in Sonoma County
Amelia Beemer doesn’t have a regular 9-to-5 job, but she does share an office.
“I discovered I can’t work from home and be happy,” said the Mill Valley writer and editor. “My life changed for the better when I realized there are other people who feel like that.”
Beemer, 33, typically spends four days a week sharing space at Work Petaluma, the largest co-working space in Sonoma County. There she’s surrounded by consultants, freelancers and entrepreneurs from a variety of fields.
“It’s like a gym membership for your business,” said Natasha Juliana, who with her husband Matt Moller started Work Petaluma more than three years ago. The aim is to provide space and services that make business people more productive as well as feeling more connected to a community.
The increased interactions from co-working can lead to “accelerated serendipity,” said Melissa Geissinger, an owner in WIMPspace, one of three co-working spaces in downtown Santa Rosa.
A decade-old phenomenon, co-working continues to grow in Sonoma County and around the globe. In essence, the practice involves the sharing of work space by the self-employed or by company workers who occasionally need a satellite office. The first co-working effort popped up in the county seven years ago in Penngrove.
This year has brought a series of new developments. Among them:
San Francisco-based SpherePad, with two co-working spaces in The City, this summer opened a site in downtown Santa Rosa. Company CEO Hasan Mirjan was pleased enough with the initial response to buy a second building east of downtown, and he plans to open it for co-working next year.
Santa Rosa Share Space, which has operated its downtown Third Street location for more than four years, this month opened a second small co-working site in Ukiah.
The program, a partnership with the Economic Development & Financing Corporation in Ukiah, appears to be the first such space in Mendocino County, said Kelly Rajala, a co-owner of the social purpose corporation that runs Share Space.
The co-working space for the Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project is moving early next month to larger offices in the O’Reilly Media complex on Gravenstein Highway North. There members will find a new feature: A “pet friendly” space, said Executive Director Gay McFarren.
Work Petaluma next year will add a second building several blocks away from its Fourth Street location to provide more meeting rooms and private office space.
In addition to those efforts, the companies and nonprofits this year came together to form the Coworking Alliance of Sonoma County. Both the co-working leaders and county officials hope the alliance will promote efforts that help more new businesses get off the ground.
“There’s plenty of demand here in Sonoma County,” said Ethan Brown, a program manager with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
A recent study by the Economic Development Board found seven businesses and nonprofits are providing co-working space in Sonoma County.
The shared office space programs provide good options for beginning business owners because they typically offer much lower costs than other leasing arrangements, said Ben Stone, the economic board’s executive director. And the interactions with like-minded entrepreneurs can provide connections and ideas that advance a business.
“It’s meant to inspire what they refer to as creative collisions,” Stone said.
Co-working is expected to be an area the county highlights in 2016 in a proposed series of events and presentations billed as “The Year of the Entrepreneur.” Planning already is underway, and the Board of Supervisors is expected to back the effort.
Across the world, co-working remains a fledgling but growing phenomenon.
In 2013, the U.S. had more than 780 co-working sites, or almost a third of the nearly 2,500 sites worldwide, according to Deskmag, an online publication that covers the business segment.
And global membership in such spaces is expected to surpass 1 million by 2018, according to Emergent Research. In the next five years the number of co-working sites is expected to grow annually at a rate of about 30 percent.
The study by the Economic Development Board noted that in 2013 the county had more than 43,000 one-person businesses and they generated an estimated $2.2 billion. Some of those entrepreneurs lease individual office space, but many work from home.
The board’s survey of 122 co-workers found that half of the respondents reported making more than $60,000 a year in revenue.
The co-working sites range from a spot at a table to private offices and meeting rooms. Many offer memberships where desks can be dedicated solely to one specific worker.