Thursday, August 28, 2014

Non-traditional office space: the options for today's entrepreneurs Use your key for the next article

One survey of 2014 college graduates found that 83 percent were graduating from college without firm job prospects. Given that every year more young people graduate into the same downcast employment market, a higher number of them are deciding to skip the job search and try entrepreneurship or other nontraditional means of work. They have little to lose and, because the barriers for entry are now so low, business owners who deal primarily in information, ideas, or technology can in a variety of non-traditional spaces. This workforce revolution is causing people to rethink their expectations of what an office is and which office characteristics are truly essential for getting work done.

For the risk averse, the situation can be intimidating, but for those ready to experiment and take chances with their careers, the possibilities are bright. The entrepreneur or consultant may find the rise of the 1099 economy freeing because she can set her own work terms and create the conditions that best suit her productivity. In an interview about Neocon, the largest commercial design conference in the country, Todd Custer of Custer phrased it like this: “The best young talent coming out of college does not want to sit in a cubicle and work eight hours a day staring at one screen. They need collaborative surroundings and up-to-date communication technology.”

So what are the options for recent graduates seeking employment?

Some young professionals choose to work from home. This arrangement works well if the home environment is not too chaotic or distracting. The commute is, of course, non-existent, the dress code is flexible, and the price is right.

The downside of working from home is three-fold: it can be difficult to persuade family or roommates that you’re on work time and not their time, it’s very easy to get distracted in a comfortable environment, and, for many people, it feels like the work week never ends.
For workers or business owners on a tight budget, one way to avoid these problems is to choose a public space with free wifi, like a coffee house or the library. Many writers prefer these, even though they are somewhat less comfortable, because the settings feel more like a work environment and more can be accomplished. Coffee shops are also great for networking or conducting informal business or sales meetings.

The drawback of the coffee house arrangement for business owners is that public spaces do not allow for the normal office culture to grow. It’s difficult to schedule brainstorming in temporary spaces. Some people find public spaces too loud or chaotic as well. And, of course, there are limitations on the amount of time people are allowed to remain, depending on the needs of other customers or the goodwill of the shop owner.

For those who want a more professional atmosphere without a huge financial commitment, co-working spaces are a popular and emerging trend. These spaces can be rented hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly, and they provide at least some of the amenities of the office. This arrangement is good for business owners who need to interact with their staff but don’t want to rent furniture or real estate.Co-working spaces are also good for workers who need socialization and a more scheduled work week. Some workers will find that having to pay for space motivates them to be more productive.

Worklab by Custer had its grand opening this last June and aims to service the upper end of this entrepreneurial and business market. While many co-working spaces provide a place to accomplish tasks, some, like Worklab, provide space to entertain clients and hold conferences as well. Business owners who want to make an impression will find renting has its benefits.

Co-working spaces are, of course, more expensive. They run the gamut from basic to posh, depending on the taste and budget of the user. They are also only available now in urban areas, which means that for many this option makes for a much longer commute.

Finally, for entrepreneurs with backers or small business loans, there’s the option of renting space or buying real estate and either renting or purchasing used office furniture. After the financial downturn of 2008, commercial real estate became much more affordable. In some urban markets, unused buildings like schools and churches are being converted to commercial space. For the energetic and handy, or those with skilled friends, this investment might pay off greatly.

As always, the options available for young workers and entrepreneurs depend on their budgets, but in many ways there are more potential workspace choices than ever to meet an individual’s needs. While the market for employment is far from stable and predetermined,, the number of choices available to young professionals is better than it’s been in years, and customization of working environments is far more possible, and less expensive, than it ever has been.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Will downtown Grand Rapids get a major grocery store?

The explosion of housing development in downtown Grand Rapids has started a number of conversations about the general livability factor of the city and the lack of grocery availability in that area of the city. From data made available by JPMorgan Chase this summer, we know that downtown residents make 80 percent of their purchases outside the downtown area and that the Knapp's Corner Meijer and D&W is the most sought out location for grocery purchases.

Over the last decades a pattern of downtown working and suburban living emerged, but since the Butterworth/Blodgett merger and the development of the Medical Mile on Michigan, demand for downtown real estate has increased significantly, spurred on by increasing transportation costs as well. Suddenly the place to be is not longer in the suburbs, but in the city, and developers have been eager to build more housing that will appeal to people with professional jobs and incomes. Old factories and commercial buildings have been transformed into condos and apartments, and the city recently approved plans for a mixed-space development in the Belknap neighborhood, just north of the Medical Mile.

These changes have been controversial, with some calling them gentrification and others accusing the city of allowing the more well off citizens to push established residents out of key areas of the city. Other celebrate what they consider the significant improvements in dining choices, retail shopping, entertainment options, and public living.

What is not debated by either group is that downtown city living, despite its benefits, is more challenging because of the lack of grocery shopping options. Food is available in the city in small boutique groceries and at farmer's markets, and there are food delivery options through Doorganics and the West Michigan Coop, but there is no large scale, one-stop-shopping option for buying food and other sundries downtown.

So how viable would a large grocery store be downtown? Despite the Downtown Development Authority identifying the lack of grocery options downtown as a significant weakness of the city in 2011, there seems to be significant hesitation from chains like Meijer or Trader Joe's to locate anywhere near downtown. Part of this must be logistical. Parking downtown is a problem, and although the Silver Line made its inaugural run this week offering residents more transportation flexibility, large chain stores are designed to sell groceries in bulk - a practice that doesn't mesh as well with public transportation use.

Additionally, for the most desirable affluent market, there already are grocery options like the Downtown Market. It's the working class and downsized middle class who would need a low cost option like a coop or an ALDI downtown to consider urban living even possible. Most of them rely on their cars too much to give them up, even if car maintenanceis more expensive long term. This demographic isn't concerned about the health benefits of kombucha or gluten-free eating. They need grocery stores who will accept the bridge card and/or offer cheap staples and produce, locally grown or not.

The question, then, is: does the city intend to encourage economic diversity with its downtown planning or not? And is there enough demand to support a larger grocery store at present? Rich people can always pay to have groceries delivered, no matter where they come from. The economically disadvantaged need an option geographically nearby.
Only time will tell.