Coworking spaces gain foothold in Southwest Michigan

What if you could pop into your office for a handful of hours a week, just a few days each month -- or every workday of the year -- a comfortable office complete with everything? 
Everything, that is, except for a yearlong lease and an exorbitant monthly rental fee.
Imagine that same workplace stocked with the desks, tables, chairs, copiers, fax machines, coffee makers, Wi-Fi services and every other tool that makes an office … well, an office … without having to purchase or maintain them.
Mike Schulte does not envision that. He lives it, working just that way from his rented portion of a spacious, shared office space at the Creekside Business Center (within The Creekside Conference Center) in Portage. 
Schulte, of Portage, is a statistical Consultant at Blue Granite in Kalamazoo. Soon after taking the position in May of 2012 – the Creekside Business Center opened its doors and he found his vocational comfort zone in its nontraditional and adaptable shared workplace.
"I have the option to do my work from an office or from home," he said. "Creekside gives me a place to get out of the house. Somewhere to go every day. I like it better than a cubicle and there are no distractions like the ones I would face in a home office. I'm working with two interns right now, and our coworking space is a good place for us to meet and work together."
Like clockwork, Schulte's days begin at 5 a.m., but his desk time fluctuates from approximately 10 to 40 hours weekly during each month. 
"That depends on whether or not I'm traveling to meet with clients," he says. "But I have 24-hour access, so and I do pop in on a weekend now and then. It's nice to be able to do that."
His nontraditional round-the-clock freedom at Creekside's shared space is not the only perk that Schulte enjoys - the scenery ain't so bad either.
"I have a beautiful, panoramic view of a woodsy area and a pond and you just can't get that anywhere else for this monthly price," Schulte says. "I tell everyone that I have the best office in town." 
The 875-square-foot facility within the Creekside Conference Center opened last August with room for about 20 individuals from all walks of life to conduct business at prices that are tough to beat.
"A basic membership is $200 a month or $80 a week," says Jenna Grodecki, the Creekside Conference Center's coordinator. "People can also come in for the day for $25."
Standard desks, barstool tables and chairs, couches, white boards and a television make work stations comfortable and adaptable; coffee and tea services are standard (from a full kitchen) to indoor settings or an outdoor patio setting, along with fiber-based Wi-Fi, hot-spot printing, overhead projection and LED TV's for group presentations.
Need a "virtual office" as well? Private phone numbers and voicemail, with personalized, scripted reception services, postal box mailing addresses and the use of private offices and conference rooms are available to rent as needed. 
Insurance providers, financial planners, and attorneys are the types who sometimes use the private meeting rooms to meet with out-of-town clients. "Sometimes they want extras, like catering," says Grodecki, who also oversees the business center's coworking. "I do that for them -- I'll pick up the food, set it up and take care of clean-up after the meetings."
Asiagos Bakery & Deli in Kalamazoo is Grodecki's choice for boxed lunches. She also picks up homemade cookies, breads and other treats at Mackenzie's Bakery.   
"There are lots of different packages that we can put together to fit almost anyone's needs," Grodecki says. "We are seeing a younger crowd here -- our target audience is the 30-somethings that easily grasp coworking as a viable way to work. 
"But we'd like to branch out to all age groups and industries; we're looking forward to growing as this catches on in our small community and more people realize how valuable coworking can be."  
Some of Grodecki's targeted audience members consist of those who don't know anything about the concept that is sweeping markets in large cities and is beginning to grow across the region. Others are vaguely informed and curious, wondering just what the coworking model really is.    
Coworking, at its core, is about doing your own thing without the disruptions and solitude of working from the house or the noisy bustle of a coffee shop. Coworking is about flexibility, convenience and, in some cases, a sense of community. It can become the ideal solution for those who want to communicate and network in a communal setting.
"We have people from all different backgrounds," Grodecki says. "It's almost like going to a networking event every day."
Venues and services differ, but typically include a spacious workspace space where professionals in myriad careers gather for the luxury of having an office without the cost of renting one. 
"Most people are shocked by the prices, especially compared to the expense of having an office of their own," Grodecki says.  
Artists, authors, graphic designers, independents, remote workers, business travelers and startup entrepreneurs are a handful of examples of those conducting business together, but separately, in this increasingly accepted approach to professional productivity. 
Some rent desks or small office spaces by the day, week or month, depending on the facilities and policies. Some may bring a small group now and then to a private rented conference room for a presentation. Others, like Schulte, make the coworking setting their permanent business locale.
Some sites do resemble coffee houses -- sans the tempting $6 lattes -- with background music playing in a very casual situation. Others are more formal.
Still others cater to specific industries, such as software development, graphic design or architecture.  
Such as Launch MI Lab, the 2,300-square-foot coworking space within the Southwest Michigan innovation Center. 
Launch MI Lab, which opened doors late last year, is a fully equipped bioscience laboratory. It was purposely built to support life science entrepreneurs and help them launch their own life science labs.
It is a uniquely affordable setting. Launch MI Lab's daily rent is $24 -- a rate surprisingly comparable to basic centers, and monthly space carries a price tag of $714.
Much like non-specific centers, lesees get a personal workspace, conference and cafe facility access, high-speed Internet, telephone services and all other office necessities. 
But unlike general coworking hubs, they have full use of the highly sophisticated, costly laboratory equipment that they need to work with before launching their startups. At Launch MI Lab, life science scientists can purchase the basic provisions that they run short of (such as gloves, test tubes, microscopic equipment and chemicals and compounds) from a stocked, on-site store without leaving their work site. They can also order supplies in advance at a significant bulk discount.
"It's very a convenient service," says Business Services Madelyn Pinder. "If I run out of sugar while I'm baking a cake, I have to leave to go and get it. I don't have a single source in my home to buy that sugar and keep baking." Scientists have that sources at Launch MI Lab.
Everyone working at Launch MI Lab has the potential to network with others who become like colleagues in their own fields, Pinder says. And, life science work aside, they can attend free monthly lunch seminars held in the building. 
The presentations are often unrelated to life sciences, but very relevant to future business owners.
 "We have held luncheons on topics like personal investing, fraud prevention and public communications. Startups don't have the staff to take care of this type of work at first, so it's important that they learn how to handle them before going out on their own," Pinder says.
"We are a life science incubator, and that's just one more way that we help people launch successful startups." 
By Kelle Barr is a freelance writer based in Portage. She can be reached here

Photos courtesy The Creekside Conference Center.
Local coworking spaces
The Creekside Conference Center is located at 8175 Creekside Drive, Ste. 120 Portage, MI 49024. For more information on the shared workspace available at the Creekside Conference Center, call (269) 321-5029. Follow The Creekside Conference Center on Facebook at  and on Twitter: @conferencecbc
Contact Launch MI Lab for more information at (269) 353-1823 and visit the web site at. It is located in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center at 4717 Campus Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008
The Bureau Coworking Club for Entrepreneurs and Freelancers is located at 321 S Kalamazoo Mall, Ste. 200, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. For more details (such as pricing, hours, availability and more), call (269) 488-5921 or visit their web site. Follow the Bureau Coworking Club for Entrepreneurs on Facebook.
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