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Co-working spaces branch out to the suburbs

Loom owner on trying co-working

Jennifer Blanchard Belk, owner of Loom Coworking in Fort Mill, talks about trying co-working.
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Jennifer Blanchard Belk, owner of Loom Coworking in Fort Mill, talks about trying co-working.

Here’s the latest sign that co-working spaces are going mainstream: They’re popping up in the suburbs.

Jennifer Blanchard Belk founded Loom in downtown Fort Mill because she found working from home too distracting and knew others felt the same way. She and her husband would sometimes end up at Starbucks at the same time, tapping away on their laptops.

“We couldn’t work at home,” she said, “because the dogs were there and the laundry’s there.”

Over in Concord, Ryan McMahon saw a way to capitalize on technology that allows people to work just about anywhere, so he and four colleagues founded HB5.

Both spots reflect the growth of interest in work spaces that allow people to work independently or collaborate in an environment designed to be more inviting than a traditional, cubicle-filled office. And both took inspiration from the growth of such spaces in center city Charlotte, which is home to more than half a dozen.

The owners of Loom and HB5 hope to appeal to those in their respective communities who want a co-working environment without having to drive to Charlotte.

They want to attract workers who want the benefit of an office space, without the hefty leases. Co-working spaces are also known for amenities, from free Internet to conference rooms and even networking and educational opportunities.

Statistics bear out the demand: The International Data Corp. estimates that U.S. mobile workers – those not tied to a desk thanks to mobile technology – numbered more than 96 million last year.

Lauren Fowler of Rock Hill is one of those mobile workers. Realizing she hadn’t left the house in days, Fowler said she knew she needed to find a space to work away from home.

Her job as a commercial interior designer for a company in Seattle and online graduate classes at Boston Architectural College allow her to be completely mobile. While there are benefits, Fowler also describes it as “a little bit of a roller coaster.”

“It was really quickly that I started missing the social interaction,” she said. “Even just getting out of the house (and) having a daily routine.”

That’s when she found Loom. Just a 15-minute drive from her house in Rock Hill, the site provides not only flexible workspaces, but a sense of belonging, too, she said.

Yarn means ‘don’t bother me’

“I’m concentrating. I’m on a roll. Don’t bother me.” That’s what the little red ball of yarn means at Loom.

If you don’t have the ball of yarn at your seat, you might be making conversation or collaborating – that’s what a co-working atmosphere is all about. You might be sitting at one of the high top tables, or maybe you’re in the comfortable orange cushioned chairs. Regardless, you can hear the hum of conversation throughout the main room.

The yarn, like the name Loom itself, reflects Fort Mill’s textile heritage. The walls are lined with artwork from Fort Mill High School seniors. And Belk said she has plans to showcase artwork from K-12 art teachers and different textile art.

Belk, 42, owner of Loom Coworking, knew from experience how challenging it was to be completely mobile. Last year, Belk worked independently from her home on a textbook for high school students interested in studying design and architecture.

“It was great,” she said. “But it was unbelievably isolating.”

And she wasn’t the only one experiencing this.

Nine of her 10 neighbors did not go into an office to work, Belk said. Being at home is sometimes too distracting.

In a county where about 30,000 commute to Mecklenburg County for work, Belk wanted her space to reflect the culture of Fort Mill.

“We wanted somewhere that just lives and breathes Fort Mill and you couldn’t just pick it up and plop it into another place,” she said.

Opened at the beginning of June, the co-working space already has about a dozen members. And Belk hopes to get more in September when Loom moves into its permanent – and larger – building next door.

Getting the message out

Too many businesses aren’t putting the needs of their workers first, said McMahon, one of the founding five members of HB5 in Concord.

“At some point, if you lose sight of people being the most important part of (a business),” he said, “then you lose sight of why businesses exist.”

The founders of HB5 wanted to change that. McMahon, 32, said the founders saw an opportunity to create an environment that meets workers’ needs. HB5 opened in late 2015.

But what does it stand for? It refers to the founders, who call themselves the “Hyperbolic Five,” McMahon said.

“It is an homage to all the people who, at one point or another, have looked at us and have said, ‘You’re talking in hyperboles. You’re never going to get this done,’” McMahon said. “It’s kind of a gentle poke in the eye to anybody who has ever told us it’s not going to happen.”

Since opening, HB5 has expanded and the 4,800-square-foot space now covers two floors on Union Street in Concord’s historic district.

The co-working site has 10 members and several company memberships. It’s also the home of Trinsik, a company co-founded by McMahon that’s designed to nurture start-ups.

McMahon said that while HB5’s growth in memberships may seem slow, he continues to get the message of co-working to the residents of Concord. Many are still wary of changing from the traditional office environment, he said. So he views his job partially as an educator.

“Every co-working facility has its own flavor,” he said. HB5 is “a petri dish for cool ideas to germinate and grow.”

Rachel Stone: (704) 358-5334, @RStone1317

Loom Coworking

Location: 118 Academy Street, Fort Mill

Cost: Flexible options with prices ranging from a day pass for $20 to a dedicated workspace for $299 per month, or about $12 per day

Amenities: Free coffee, free Internet and printing, meeting rooms and more

www.loomcoworking.com

HB5

Location: 42 Union Street South Suite A, Concord

Cost: $20 a day or $150 a month

Amenities: Free coffee, free Internet, standing or sitting desk options and more

www.hb5.co

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