A huge coworking hub in middle-America

by Paul Carder on November 30, 2015

The marketing blurb for Timothy Sprinkle’s 2015 book, “Screw the Valley“, says:

The most exciting high-tech startups are escaping the expensive and inbred environment of Silicon Valley. Welcome to the future.

Really? To where? …NYC? – yes. Austin, TX? – well, yes, less obvious maybe to those outside the US, but it is a fairly popular place. …Kansas City? …really?

The 2015 book’s blurb continues:

Entrepreneurs know they must embrace innovation to excel—starting with where they locate their new venture. Fortunately, budding companies seeking fertile ground have more options today than ever before. Screw the Valley calls on today’s entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners to forget California and explore other options across the country—cities that offer more room to breathe, easier access to funding and talented workers, fewer heads to butt, and less money down the drain

Timothy Sprinkle visits seven areas that “offer a superior landscape for tech startups” – Detroit, New York City, Las Vegas, Austin, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, and Boulder. He explains “the startup potential” in each city, detailing which industries are thriving where, and highlighting “the unique appeal and character of each location”.

The book’s blurb ends with this statement:

Bright ideas are not geographically limited, and innovation is happening every day in cities all over the country. It’s time to think outside the box when it comes to startup location. It’s time to say Screw the Valley.

It’s kind of like saying “if you can make it there, you can make it in the middle of nowhere…” (etc… to Sinatra’s music).

In “Screw the Valley: Kansas City Edition” (a brief extract of the main book) Sprinkle provides an overview of the assets and help available to Kansas City startups and #tech entrepreneurs. It appears that the “City of Fountains”, with its French-style boulevards, has many resources to offer businesses.

Sprinkle does, however, admit that Kansas City, “as a tech ecosystem, still has a branding problem”. He asks:

Why would anyone want to live in the middle of the Great Plains? Where do they work? What do they do for fun? Really, what’s the appeal? …As a State, Kansas has long been misunderstood…

Well, I can’t answer many of those questions. But, we can at least now see where some people will work in Kansas City. They are going back to school, almost literally.

The local Startland News reported that Sustainable Development Partners (KCSDP) purchased the Junior High School in January 2014. And that Kansas City Public Schools approved, in September, the sale of the High School to Sustainable Development Partners. The KCSDP website has more images and information relating to the Collaborative Innovation Hub.

The redevelopment scheme for the combined 300,000 square-feet of space will cost about $23 million. What was once Westport Junior High will become ‘home’ to non-for-profits, whilst the former Westport High School will be a space for tech and innovation.

On 18th November, Startland News ran this piece: The ‘world’s biggest coworking studio’ is coming to Kansas City. The KCSDP is partnering with coworking company Plexpod to deliver the facility.

In fact, it is not just a coworking studio:

the space will feature an array of amenities for entrepreneurs and the community as a whole, including office space, a business incubator, access to investors, an event space, a maker’s studio and more

The Startland News piece states that the Kansas City metro area already has 11 coworking spaces, but that “none will come close to rivaling the amenities and size offered at the Westport Commons project”. KCSDP reckons that “given current trends, Kansas City needs about 500,000 square-feet of coworking space to accommodate independent workers.” Wow! So coworking really has taken off in a big way.

But, can they create a place where people want to be, in those numbers, in an old school building? Most of the other coworking spaces, as the article notes, are about 5,000 square feet. Is there a reason for that, perhaps?

Do “huge” and “coworking go together? Do “huge” and “boutique hotel” go together?… I’d say, no. There is something about place which relates to scale.

I’d like to visit a year or two after it is up and running. Will the place have a ‘buzz’? Or will it feel big and corporate? It would be fascinating to read the objective views of a social network analysis study, sometime down the line. Will the operator assist that social network to develop, so the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts?

Or will people drift off to the 5,000 sq.ft. ‘buzzy’ coworking hubs? We’ll see, I guess…

@paulcarder

 

Further reading:

Bartels, L. M. (2006). What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 1(2), 201-226; available at: http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansasqjps06.pdf

Frank, T. (2004). What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.
New York: Henry Holt & Company

Sprinkle, T. (2015). Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture: New York, Boulder, Austin, Raleigh, Detroit, Las Vegas, Kansas City. BenBella Books, Inc.

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