WESTFIELD – The concept for the MillWorks Co-Sharing WorkSpace came about last year after the Noble Visiting Nurses informed owner J. Rockwell Allen that they would be vacating their space at The Mill at Crane Pond on 77 Mill Street. Soon afterwards, Allen went to visit his daughter in Seattle, and while he was there, he toured co-sharing workspaces.
“I was amazed,” Allen said. He said the spaces had meeting rooms, casual seating, phone booths for privacy, a shared copy center, and dedicated and flexible desks for solo entrepreneurs who might not need to rent an entire office.
“I wondered if I could do that at the Mill. Noble VNA had the whole floor, and decided they didn’t need the office space just after the merger with Baystate,” Allen said. He recognized the opportunity, and started renovating the floor for the MillWorks Co-Sharing WorkSpace in January of this year.
MillWorks is now slated to open November 1, and will offer a work environment where individuals can share office services, equipment, technology, and space, allowing flexible and affordable options for telecommuters, solopreneurs, start-ups, students, independent contractors, traveling business people, or anyone looking for a creative and supportive place to work.
MillWorks Community Manager Theresa Bessette, who will be doing some of the marketing, website design and community outreach, became involved with the project after looking for space for herself on a limited budget. “It was serendipitous,” Bessette said. An entrepreneur with a long career in health care, she was familiar with WeWork, a national chain of co-sharing spaces, and the Valley Venture Mentors in Northampton.
“So needed,” Bessette said about co-sharing space. “I know so many of my friends right now who are working from home, on a kitchen table that has been converted into a desk.”
Bessette calls Allen “the brains, inspiration, and motivation” behind MillWorks, connecting his historical work with the property, which has served as an incubator for a number of businesses in the area, to the brand new venture.
Allen bought what became The Mill at Crane Pond with his daughters over 30 years ago out of foreclosure. Originally, the former paper mill property had nine buildings on 15 acres that ran around the edge of Crane Pond. He tore down two in the back of the parking area, and started developing the rest.
“Because of the way we bought the property, we were able to do things other real estate people weren’t able to do,” Allen said, adding that they were able to build out and keep rents competitive.
Currently, the Mill houses five different social service agencies, and another dozen or so commercial tenants, including the Great Awakenings brewery and the Pottery Cellar and Cafe, two of the newer businesses.
“It’s a place where people can come and start a business and grow a business,” Allen said, adding that there are probably a dozen companies that started at the Mill, outgrew their space, and have become established businesses elsewhere in Westfield. He listed Pilgrim Candle, Pro Graphics, Boval Engine Repair and A&D Rentals among them.
“We’ve been full,” Allen said about rentals at the Mill at Crane Pond.
Another early supporter of the MillWorks concept has been Westfield Gas & Electric and Whip City Fiber. After speaking with them last year about his plans, Whip City Fiber underwrote the cost of bringing fiber to the building, and the Mill connected all of the offices to it. “It’s super fast,” Allen said about the hookup.
“Whip City Fiber’s been great; very supportive of the whole project,” Bessette said, adding that when power was down last week due to Tropical Storm Isaias, they still had internet in the building.
Allen is also working with G&E to retrofit the whole building with LED lighting. He was also able to take advantage of a state underwriting opportunity to pay for half of the equipment for electric vehicle charging stations in the East Parking lot, which will be free of charge to some co-sharing members. “G&E looks to do certain incentives,” Allen said.
“We are selling memberships in a space,” Allen said about Millworks; a space where people can work alone and also collaborate. “A lot of networking and community naturally occurs in a place like this. The community aspect is unique to co-sharing; you share in the cost of services.”
People will be able to rent flexible desks for $135/month, which they can come and use 24/7, or dedicated desks with a locking cabinet for $175/month. Rentals include high speed internet, access to the copier and scanner, huddle and conference rooms, work lounge, phone room and cafe, and the mailroom. The dedicated desks also have access to the electric vehicle charging stations.
Also available are a limited number of private offices, which come furnished with a locking cabinet, and rent for $285 to $510 a month. Bessette said reservations are being taken for all the spaces at millworkswestfield.com, and the six available private offices “are going really fast.”
The conference room or “presentation hall” will have enhanced video capacity and access to a breakout room, and will be available to rent at $200 a day, with hourly rates also available. Allen said Chambers of Commerce and local civic organizations will be able to use the hall at a discounted rate if they need a place to congregate for a meeting.
Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kate Phelon is excited about the whole concept of MillWorks. “Westfield needed this years ago,” Phelon said. She said she and others have toured co-share spaces around the state and talked about the concept for years.
“This will help home-based businesses with a business space to meet, non-profit associations with no staff who need meeting space and professional space to meet with clients. It’s so long overdue,” Phelon said, adding it will give options to entrepreneurs that were not available or affordable before.
Westfield Community Development Director Peter J. Miller is also a fan of the project, and recently wrote a letter to MassDevelopment in support of a Collaborative Workspace Grant for MillWorks.
“The City is very pleased that MillWorks has determined this collaborative workspace model to be a good fit for their remaining space. With a near certain permanent increase in the number of people who will be challenged by their employers to work remotely, as well as a healthy population of self-employed people looking for a more social and collaborative environment, I am confident MillWorks will present a popular alternative work space upon completion,” Miller wrote in his letter of support.
“I think it fills an important need in Westfield. Around the state, a lot of Gateway cities have turned to collaborative work spaces. Workers are provided a place where people can maintain social interaction and have access. I am certainly supportive of the effort,” Miller said this week, adding that the community aspect “is a big deal.”