Wednesday, March 24

One thing Tech Valley lacks

Having grown up just inside the development-restricted, redneck-populated, overwhelmingly large and backward Adirondack Park spending my teen years playing football, causing trouble and trying to sell websites to small business owners who often didn't have dialup Internet service, or, in many cases, even a computer on-site at their business, I've seen a lot of positive change, real progress, in this relatively recently bemonikered "Tech Valley" region. Broadband just about everywhere that really matters. Computers in every shop. A website for everyone. A big semiconductor foundry of an alleged job-mill in our backyard.

One major piece of the tech worker and tech industry growth puzzle that Tech Valley still falls flat on however is workspace. Office space is often underserved and overpriced for independent, often mobile tech professionals, or startups and other small businesses that may work in small and/or remote teams and have little or no need for a permanent office. And no, neither Panera nor Starbucks comes anywhere close to cutting it. What Albany needs, what Tech Valley and its population and ability to innovate would benefit from, are coworking spaces.

What is coworking? Perhaps you've heard of hotdesking? The act of borrowing someone else's desk for a period of time? Envision a flexible office space of nothing but hotdeskers. Tenants, if you will, who might be there for a few hours, the day, or maybe 9-5 (or 9-9, or 5-9, you get the picture) all week long. Coworking spaces are dedicated workspaces, sometimes run as clubs or co-ops, or on a subscription basis. Flexibility is key!

Nobody loudly placing orders at the register. No kid kicking the back of your seat. No squealing babies. No delinquent punks eyeballing your gear. Chairs, desks, tables, whiteboards, often conference rooms. Some coworking spaces provide laptops and computers for rent. Any coworking space worth its salt provides coffee makers and solid Internet connectivity, the best providing both RJ-45 jacks for gigabit LAN and 802.11 for WiFi.

Office supplies are often available, sometimes as part of the package, sometimes for a fee. Scanners, faxes and printers are commonplace. Some of the nicer spaces also have high-end videoconferencing gear.

Not only are coworking spaces great for getting work done at an affordable rate, or having team or even client meetings, but coworking venues also typically offer a great networking scene as well. Similarly motivated and hardworking people with often complementary capabilities -- that's nothing but win.

Coworking spaces in metro areas tend to pop up in the unused or underutilized space of established companies, though that's not a rule by any means -- Rochester's first coworking space has sprung up in a loft I used to party in in my western NY days. Any space with the appropriate zoning and infrastructure, or the potential to cost effectively add or augment the required infrastructure, will do. (And this includes parking in cities where mass transit is less common.)

Albany has plenty of empty real estate ... do we have enough motivated, semi-mobile professionals who would know what to do with coworking space if they had it available? Does Tech Valley have what it takes to genuinely bootstrap and nurture its homegrown talent, expertise and productivity pools in areas that will matter most in the coming decades?

UPDATE: Laura has created a fan page for Coworking in Albany on Facebook.

UPDATE2: Laura's blog entry on this topic.

UPDATE3: The coworking pbwiki -- I'd be remiss to continue to neglect linking to this, as Laura has in her post. Great info from providers and consumers of space, as well as a listing of worldwide coworking spaces!