201 E. Abram St.
500 E. Front St.
609 E. Main St.
It took Arlington just a bit to catch on to the concept of coworking spaces as both a business in itself and as an incubator for budding entrepreneurs. Almost three years in fact, but now the city’s resurging downtown offers three such endeavors – all doing well despite existing two blocks apart.
Simplistic definition: Coworking — Shared, economical office space that houses multiple companies, most typically one- or two-person operations.
The coworking senior citizen, PinnStation Coworking, hasn’t yet seen its third birthday but is expanding. Ditto for the two-year-old CenterSpace, having outgrown the original leased facility, recently opting to purchase a downtown building. PinnStation’s and CenterSpace’s success bodes well for the third and newest entry, Union Worx.
Coworking has been around since the office was created, but the trend really began to permeate the workplace around 2005. Boosters included the up-down cyclical economy and emergence of work-anywhere slick digital communications ranging from Skype to Wi-Fi. Coworking space in this country is at about 30 million square feet and growing 20 percent annually, an idea that has gone mainstream.
“People can work any place so long as they’re comfortable and can efficiently connect,” said Bob Johnson, the city’s coworking pioneer and owner of PinnStation Coworking.
Johnson had more space in his East Abram Street building than he needed. Leasing it out for coworking seemed a fix and also a boost to a downtown renaissance that’s important to him.
“Tony Rutigliano, former president of Downtown Arlington Management Corp., persuaded me that UTA students and professors would collaborate on projects in a big shared open space – in effect a higher education intellectual incubator,” Johnson said.
That idea did so-so. Clients showed up but the effect was something like an elevator with everybody spacing themselves equal distance apart. Tenants ranged from lawyers and accountants to manufacturing reps and IT consultants, but not so much from nearby University of Texas at Arlington.
“It took me a while to realize what clients really wanted was a semi-private office for their work – sometimes very small – but an ability to have bigger meetings, use Wi-Fi, have a place for meetings and set up a conference if they needed it,” Johnson said. “I can’t claim genius about the evolution except that eventually I figured out I needed to let the market tell me what it wanted.”
The original PinnStation Coworking space opened at an experimental 1,100 square feet. It’s now 8,500 square feet and Johnson will soon add 7,500 more.
CenterSpace creator and IT consultant Brian Jones – his partner is Chris Tracey – found PinnStation full when he looked for coworking space. Jones’s motivation was simple: “Two young kids, neither of whom seemed to understand the phrase ‘Daddy is working now.’”
Jones and Tracey leased space on Mesquite Street for their own coworking operation. It quickly filled. They’ve since purchased their own building on East Main Street, that facility also nearing maximum occupancy.
“We find coworkers just need to get out of the house and have a place to meet their clients,” Jones said. “It’s a mix of lawyers, IT types, realtors and more.”
Figuring they knew a good business idea when they saw it, Union Worx owners Luke and Lauren Brewer wanted to start a business with socialization, altruistic and profit potential.
“Start-ups need a place to connect, build a community and help each other grow,” Lauren Brewer said. “We wanted to be that place. For us, Union Worx [located on East Front Street] is also our own version of start small.”
Two early Union Worx tenants were Matt and Melody Brunson. Though married, they each have growing graphics design and branding companies – Fiber Press for Matt and Hotnoggin for Melody.
“We found an office away from home to be more productive, plus we needed a place to meet clients, make pitches, have a more formalized work environment and expand our visibility,” Melody Brunson said. “Coworking has exceeded our expectations.”
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.