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The road to growth: Nontraditional offices

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Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.
Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group. - (Photo / )

According to the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor from Babson College, 14 percent of Americans were involved in starting or running a new business, and 12 percent planned to start one.

To put this into perspective, we are currently experiencing the highest rate of entrepreneurship since the dot-com boom nearly two decades ago.

Central Pennsylvania may not have made the list of the world's leading startup cities; still, locally, we are seeing a burst of entrepreneurial activity and an increase in organizations and resources that aim to foster this growth.

What makes this current boom in entrepreneurialism different from the rest? One interesting trend is the innovative choice of office space. Rather than expanding into traditional, suburban office parks, these startups appear to be gravitating toward co-working spaces and incubators where many factors are better suited to meet their needs.

According to the CoStar Report in second quarter 2015, the Central Pennsylvania office real estate submarket showed a quoted rental rate of $17.22 per square foot. This is the highest price since 2011 — not to mention this is a substantial expense for new businesses who are just getting on their feet.

As the current vacancy rate of 8 percent continues along a decreasing trend, there is not much leverage for price negotiation.

Whether it's cost-related or simply the desire to work in a more casual and energizing environment, local startups have found a haven in co-working spaces and incubators that are on the rise in the region. Let's take a closer look at these nontraditional office spaces and what they offer entrepreneurs.

Incubators

Incubators are designed to do pretty much what the name implies.

More than just a work space, incubators are comprehensive programs designed to support startups and entrepreneurial companies by providing business mentoring, affordable work space, a wide variety of resources, and a community of experts and peers who take an active role in helping the business to grow.

Coming up on nearly 20 years since it was established, the Ben Franklin TechCelerator @Carlisle is a full-service incubator for startup technology and small manufacturers that provides affordable office space and a variety of programs to accelerate growth.

Startups can apply to be accepted into the entrepreneurial or incubator programs or rent office space in a building at 453 Lincoln St. in Carlisle. In June, the BF TechCelerator named a new executive team, including Richard Heddleson as executive director.

Co-working spaces

Co-working spaces, though not as intensive and full-service as incubator programs, still provide a lot of unique benefits for new businesses.

Many startups consist of just a few employees, which can make it challenging to find traditional office space with such small square footage. Startups often can't commit to long-term contracts or devote a substantial amount of their budget to office space at this volatile time. 

With co-working spaces, you can rent as little as a single desk with extremely flexible terms. And better than working from home or a coffee shop, co-working spaces also provide access to conference rooms, printers, copiers and a community of fellow entrepreneurs. 

Co-working spaces can be found all across Central Pennsylvania. In Lancaster, check out The Candy Factory or Warehouse 210. In Harrisburg, Startup Harrisburg can provide a cost-effective work space right downtown. In York, CoWork 155 will get you up and running in the city.

And there is a lot of potential for growth.

Back in 2012, the idea for The Futureland Project was born with the intent to turn vacant vendor space at Harrisburg Mall into offices for startups to give them affordable work space with added exposure. If progress on this idea picks up again, new businesses will have yet another option for space.

Fueling growth for health and research

FOr a new business on a budget, finding merely an affordable office with a desk from can be challenging enough. Now imagine trying to grow a business that also has very specific, and often expensive, needs like in the field of high technology-based research and commercialization.

This would be nearly impossible to find without a major cash infusion or a facility designed for this exact purpose.

But where does a facility like this exist?

Right here in Central Pennsylvania, the Hershey Center for Applied Research (HCAR) supports science-based and high technology researchers, companies and organizations through their emergence, growth or mature stages within the global marketplace.

HCAR is a Wexford Science and Technology property with partnerships with Penn State University and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Just as other incubator programs and co-working spaces provide startups with affordable access to the resources they need to thrive, HCAR also provides affordable access to help health and research businesses thrive in Central Pennsylvania and beyond.

More than a trend

As entrepreneurship and startups continue to rise, we can expect nontraditional offices like incubators and co-working spaces to become increasingly mainstream.

This is more than just a trend — it is an entire industry of its own. Just take a look at the company WeWork that provides co-working space in major cities across the U.S. and the world.

What started off as an idea to provide small businesses with space, community and services is now valued at $10 billion with more plans for growth.

In Central Pennsylvania The TechCelerator, HCAR and co-working spaces continue to help new businesses thrive in our region thanks to their nontraditional approach to office space.

What we can learn from this growing movement is that while small businesses have their own unique struggles, there are more resources than ever to help them succeed.

Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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