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Creative connection: co-working spaces hives of activity

Shayd Johnson is one of the young professionals seeking creative spaces to work. Nanaimo will be opening its own co-working space soon. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Shayd Johnson is one of the young professionals seeking creative spaces to work. Nanaimo will be opening its own co-working space soon.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo entrepreneur Shayd Johnson planned to expand his graphic design business into Vancouver, but the last thing he wanted was to work solo in a high-priced office.

So he turned to co-working spaces.

“I am drawn to them,” said Johnson, owner of Elephant Room Creative. “There is this mass amount of people in one room with the same creative passion and energy, [but they are] in different fields of work … it’s cool to be able to bounce ideas off each other.”

Johnson is part of a growing number of entrepreneurs looking to leave the isolation of coffee shops and home offices for busy co-working hives. The spaces offer creative professionals the perks of office spaces without long-term leases or high overhead costs. They are “innovative” communities that buzz with energy as talented creatives share resources, collaborate and network to grow their start-up businesses, said Paris Gaudet, executive director of Innovative Island.

Now Nanaimo is on the verge of getting its own co-working space.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation and Innovation Island have joined forces to bring the movement to the Harbour City, with plans for a 2,400 square-foot work spread of private offices, communal work desks, lounge areas and a boardroom. Business owners can rent desks and tap into services and mentorship offered by the two organizations.

With the city’s push to lure the creative class, now is a good time for Nanaimo to start offering fun work environments, according to those that have been advocating for co-working hives.

The creative class is in big demand by municipalities, like Nanaimo, looking to attract investment and generate jobs. But the professionals are highly mobile and are choosing to live in cities with cultural diversity, recreational opportunities and inspiring work environments to grow their ideas, said creatives Mark Ashby and Jackie Duys-Kelly, members of the Nanaimo Design Nerds.

A co-working space would not only help entrepreneurs develop their businesses, but offer temporary desks to professionals doing short-term jobs in the city, they say.

“These kinds of spaces are the beginning of a revolutionary way of how people work together ... produce and progress,” Duys-Kelly said.

“I am sure many graduates from Emily Carr [University] or other institutions would be happy to move to the Island and invest their time and energy here ... if they had a beginning spot to really get to know the community fast and be part of something greater than themselves that allows them to succeed.”

The idea to build a local co-working space is still in its early stages, but is anticipated to be at the Painted Turtle Guesthouse on Commercial Street. Its creators say the new space would cater to the tech community.

“This is going to be a game changer for our community because there is nothing like this on Vancouver Island outside Victoria,” Gaudet said.

“Working in isolation is tough. When you are in a co-working space it screams innovation and energy and the vibe is really conducive to productivity.”

Johnson is now using co-working spaces to expand his agency to the mainland, but if not for initially finding a funky office space in Nanaimo, he said he might not have started his company here. A “cool, creative place” is important to keep new graduates in the city, he said.

“Nanaimo is on the way to improving a lot of things in the community so creative professionals will want to stay here,” Johnson said.

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