Tech boom bringing coworking spaces to Wenatchee

By Reilly Kneedler

The Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — Kerri Walker owns a small business and her husband Jason works remotely for Microsoft, but on an average day their coworkers include an architect, a filmmaker and a freight logistics manager.

It’s made possible through the coworking space model, which offers daily or monthly desk space for people who work from home or small business owners without an office.

They’re part of an exploding national trend that now has a firm foothold in Wenatchee. Six months ago the valley had zero coworking spaces. In six months time there will be three open — with capacity for more than 100 workers.

Jason and Kerri opened the valley’s first, Mission St Commons, in September.

Another, the Wenatchee Workspace, opened on Monday. A third is scheduled to open downtown in March.

The Leavenworth Community Workspace, which opened in 2015, was the region’s only coworking space until this year.

Economic progress, cheap power and fast internet has made North Central Washington a beacon for technology job expansion over the past few years, driving the need for alternative office space, according to local developers.

Our Valley Our Future, a collaborative focused on housing and economic development, identified coworking space development as a goal in its February 2018 action plan.

It’s important to think of them as more than just a physical place to work, said Shiloh Burgess, the executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely experience, so it’s creating an environment where you can go, get the work done, grow your business,” she said.

These new ventures also encourage economic growth in the area, Burgess said.

“When the community drives the support for these things it’s perking interest and drawing people here,” she said. “It’s showing intention by the community about how we want to grow and how we want to develop in our desire to have these different industries in our community.”

Coworking spaces have traditionally been associated with the tech field but Jason Walker said Mission St Commons has seen interest from people across industries.

“It’s all over the board and I think it works for anyone who wants fast, reliable internet and a quieter space with smart people,” he said. “I think it can work for anyone.”

Mission St Commons is 1,000 square feet and has space for around 10-15 people, as well as a conference room and a kitchen area.

Like most coworking spaces, it features a tiered pricing model.

A hot desk membership, which is available for $100 a month, allows the user to work at any open desk space. A dedicated desk is $200 a month and a day pass is $25.

The idea to open the space came from the Walkers’ own needs as remote workers, Kerri said.

“It was really just born from our own desire to get out of the house and then really wanting to develop community and connection with people in Wenatchee,” she said.

They also see the space as a place to foster budding businesses.

“We like Wenatchee a lot and see a lot of change on the horizon,” Jason said. “We thought it was a really, really good location and a good investment for us and in the community.”

J. Michael Walker — who’s not related to Kerri and Jason — also chose to invest in Wenatchee through a coworking space. He decided in January to open one of his own by repurposing space his family owns in north Wenatchee.

“I thought we were going to be the first one and we were really pleasantly surprised that one opened before us,” he said. “We thought, ‘Wow someone else is thinking about this, that’s really cool.”

Wenatchee Workspace has a conference room, private phone booths and capacity for around 25 people.

“I think it turned out amazing, it turned out better than any of us had hoped for,” J. Michael said.

J. Michael Walker’s family has been involved in the Wenatchee real estate scene for decades, most notably with the Eagle Transfer Company and Pybus Public Market.

“I think a lot of people have ignored Wenatchee, but they aren’t ignoring it now,” he said. “You see Microsoft in Quincy and a lot of those people who are working there are living in the valley. Wenatchee seems to me to be such an up-and-coming area.”

The rising economy has also led to a boom in development downtown.

Jeff and Heather Ostenson partnered with Rick and Cory Wray in October to buy a 21,000 square-foot building on Wenatchee Avenue across from Cafe Mela.

They plan to turn to the 9,000 square-foot main floor into a coworking and event space.

They’ve named it the Ellis-Forde Building after the Ellis-Forde Mercantile, which was one of the original tenants when the building opened in 1905, Ostenson said.

The group hasn’t decided on a name for the coworking space but it’s leaning toward The Mercantile, to honor the building’s history.

“It’s the same principle that a lot of these other groups are doing, but I think we’re trying to add a component to it and part of that’s the location,” Ostenson said. “When we found this building was for sale we said that’s the spot because it’s in the heart of downtown.”

It’s expected to open in March and will be the biggest coworking space in the area. There will be 60 hot desks and 24 designated desks.

The group also plans to have a series of suites for small businesses and an area for film screenings or events.

GWATA, North Central Washington’s Technology Alliance, plans to move there when it opens.

“We’ve actually been researching coworking spaces for last five years. Then about a year ago we saw there were several groups interested in opening them,” said Becca Freimuth, GWATA’s communications manager. “… We’re excited to support it.”

Ostenson said the group hopes its coworking space will fill a need in Wenatchee.

“It is something that’s really taking off in the world, it makes sense in Wenatchee and it really supports the idea of making this a place for tech culture and entrepreneurial culture in Wenatchee,” Ostenson said. “And we need that really badly.”