Meriden business groups want study on shared work spaces

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MERIDEN — The Meriden Economic Development Corp. wants to team with the city’s Economic Development office to study the feasibility of shared office space in downtown. 

“We’ve been looking around at what other cities are doing,” said MEDCO Executive Director Tom Welsh. “This is a central first step step to determine marketability and need. If it is not needed, we’ll cut our losses early.” 

Welsh was joined by city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest Tuesday night in a presentation before two City Council subcommittees. The proposal splits the cost of a co-working study with MEDCO. If approved by the City Council, $45,000 would come from the economic development office’s budget. MEDCO would pay $46,000. 

The Economic Development office and MEDCO want to hire consultant Devin Schleidt, of Schleidt Works LLC, a management consulting firm that has assisted with the creation and management of co-working spaces. The firm has developed a 7,000-square-foot co-working space in Norwich, which is home to more than 30 businesses. 

“We want to see whether the city of Meriden is ready for a co-working project...and identify the individuals who could occupy it,” Schleidt told committee members.

A co-working space is an arrangement in which several workers from different companies share office space and the costs to use common infrastructure, equipment, utilities and support staff, including reception and custodial. The spaces may appeal to entrepreneurs, independent contractors, telecommuters, small businesses and large companies in need of flexible space. 

Feest joined MEDCO and Making Meriden Business Center staff on visits to Norwich and Hamden. 

“It could have a tangible benefit for us,” Feest said. “You have to be flexible and see what the market is looking for...Is it right for Meriden? We’ll know in six to eight months.” 

There are co-working centers in Enfield, Hartford, West Hartford, East Hartford, Wallingford, New Haven, Guilford and Bridgeport.

A co-working center in Meriden could attract companies based in Hartford and New Haven. Participants would provide foot traffic to local eateries and use of the Green for leisure or exercise. 

“It’s a way to bring people downtown,” Feest said. 

The first phase of the study would establish a central database of potential businesses interested in downtown space. The second involves a feasibility analysis, market research, marketing campaign, analysis of needs and identifying financing sources, according to Schleidt’s presentation

Feest recognized there may be resistance to the city spending on market studies, but believes it’s wise to move ahead while the city is able to split the expense with MEDCO. The co-working space, which will also provide support services from small business advocacy groups, can also provide an evolution for the Making Meriden Business Center, which relies on MEDCO and CT Main Street to help fund it. 

Schleidt has also served on the board of NESIT Marketplace, a shared technology working space in the Meriden Enterprise Center at 290 Pratt St. 

“NESIT is a great resource for engineers or hobbyists who may not have all the expensive machinery or tools needed to create their intended project, such as a prototype product,” Schleidt said. “The co-working space on the other hand aims to provide a workplace and community for individuals and businesses across all industries.”

MEDCO has included $25,000 in the CTNext budget for the co-working space project and the board recently approved CTNext funding to provide the additional $20,000 needed to match the requested city support for the study, according to Welsh. 

Potential locations and users will also be studied. Possible users include MidState Medical Center, information technology centers and a broad range of service companies and entrepreneurs. The city’s central location and rail access gives it an advantage, advocates said.

Committee members were mostly supportive of the idea. The Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend it to the City Council.

“The project scope is feasibility,” said Finance Committee Chairman David Lowell. “Anything else is premature. We will get updates with the next step. This is for the greater good and the overall financial health of the community.”
Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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