The Coop, Montgomery County’s first shared co-working space and business incubator, has finally found a home at 106 West Seward Street, located on the southwest corner of the courthouse square in Hillsboro. The recently sold building has long been a nexus for intellect, having housed both Books & Moore and the former Montgomery County News within its walls, and The Coop seems to be a natural evolution for the space.
Kyle and Maggie (Tarr) Anderson officially took ownership of the downtown Hillsboro property late last week and have already begun renovating the building. This is the second building in downtown Hillsboro that the couple has taken on, and patrons of Books & Moore will be happy to learn that the Anderson’s absorbed much of the bookstore’s inventory in the purchase. The couple’s long-term vision includes a local book store, though the details and location are still coming into clarity.
The young couple are not ones to shy away from a challenge, and had long been considering purchasing a second building to renovate, in downtown Hillsboro, when they learned a previous buyer had opted out of purchasing the Books & Moore building. Excited by the prospect of a new project, it was ultimately their belief in The Coop’s mission that cemented the deal for the local couple; to facilitate a thriving small business community within Montgomery County. Entrepreneurship is a shared value of the couple, who have both personal interests invested in their Main Street building and strong ties to the business community through Anderson’s career as general manager of Atlas 46’s Hillsboro site.
“I think there is a lot of potential in both the business incubator aspect and the idea of a shared office space. I personally know so many people that are working out-of-state, from home, and we all know it’s not super easy to get motivated when your couch and Netflix are ten feet away. Having a professional environment available will be a huge draw,” Anderson explained with a laugh. “It’s a big building and unlike a lot of the buildings downtown it is a freestanding structure. There is a lot of room for us to be able to offer spaces for things like meetings.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Coop had begun successfully trialing it’s shared workspace services through regular pop-up co-working days at the Opera House Brewery. Once operational, The Coop plans to function as a business incubator. A growing trend in larger cities, business incubators provide services to help small businesses owners get through the hurdles of starting a business and are quickly becoming a catalyst tool for regional economic development.
The Coop’s Executive Director, Cara Noyes, has long held a vision for The Coop to function as an educational system for small businesses, both startups and those looking to expand within Montgomery County. These services will be tailored to the individual members but will include things like developing a business plan, financial planning, securing funding, marketing, educational opportunities, professional business mentorships and coaching opportunities. Noyes plans to work alongside Montgomery County’s business and organization leaders to offer these services.
“The Coop will be open to businesses and entrepreneurs from all industries, at all levels of development, from freelancers working at home to startups with little revenue for a space of their own,” Noyes explained. “The Coop is about bringing independent workers together, but it is also about laying a strong foundation for local entrepreneurs and supporting their endeavors. We want our local businesses to thrive, but we also want them to stay.”
According to studies conducted by the Small Business Association (https://www.sba.gov/) small businesses are often better for the local economy than the introduction of large chain stores, which take profits from already existing business owners and take money out of the area’s direct economy. Most often these chains create a ripple effect of locally owned business closures and often large firms displace just as many jobs as they create.
Businesses incubators also increase the chances of a small business surviving past the five-year mark by approximately 60 percent, an aspect which may be crucial in light of the heightened obstacles entrepreneurs face amid the ongoing COVID-9 pandemic.
The Coop will be based in Hillsboro but aims to work with small business owners throughout the county, with the goal of preparing them to launch stand-alone businesses in their own communities.
The Coop does not plan to be a permanent home for businesses but rather a launching pad. While the amount of time a company spends in an incubation program can vary widely depending on a number of factors, The Coop will have defined graduation requirements in which the individual businesses will be expected to leave the nest, fully prepared to successfully operate on their own.
“The truth is that if we are going to survive economically, we have to think of Montgomery County as a united team. What is good for one town’s economy is good for all of us,” Jonathan Weyer, community and economic planner for the City of Hillsboro explained. “The plan is to have a thriving small business economy throughout the county. We think of the The Coop as the first step of that plan, a place where local entrepreneurs can not only grow and find their wings, but form partnerships that will benefit all of us in the long run.”
In addition to The Coop, the Andersons already have another potential renter for the basement of the building; a young local entrepreneur the couple is personally invested in seeing succeed. Having two potential renters for the space puts the Andersons on a bit of a time-crunch to renovate the newly acquired building.
“As soon as I got the keys I started beating plaster off,” Anderson went on to state. “Luckily, most of the work being done on the building is cosmetic. Maggie and I want the space to feel fun and inspiring. We are updating fixtures and really just trying to modernize the building’s vibe.”
The Coop anticipates officially opening their doors in January 2021. Further information about the business incubator and shared workspace can be found online at The Coop’s Facebook page.