Commercial Currents: Extending the shoulder seasons with coworking spaces

Stephenie MacLagan
Posted 2017-08-18

They’re popping up everywhere! While coworking spaces may be the new trendy thing, they’ve also become another tool for communities trying to extend the shoulder seasons. Most of Maine’s coast sees a spike in population during the summer months with seasonal residents trickling in during the spring and waning in the fall. When communities can attract those residents to come earlier or stay longer, it can have social and economic benefits for everyone.

Vinalhaven experimented with a coworking space in 2016, and now a business owner is making a go of it. Even though the space is still being developed, and August is its official grand opening, there’s already high demand for it. The Town of Vinalhaven saw a coworking space as a way to expose more residents to high-speed internet and provide a location for community education on the importance of broadband. In 2016, the Island Speed Space held a few workers and lots of Fiber Talks on broadband. Since then, Rob and Jen Miller, owners of the building known locally as 28 Main, have continued to improve the first floor as a coworking space. 

Dubbed “The Work Dock,” this coworking space includes three dedicated work stations with desktop computers that are connected to a shared printer, additional counter space and lounge chairs, and WiFi internet connections. Rob Miller, says “With about six people using it so far, it’s an intentionally slow start. We want to get our systems up and running, so that as more people come to use the space we can provide them with a good experience.”

Rob Miller

Working at The Work Dock on Vinalhaven

The Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce uses a portion of The Work Dock to have a presence closer to Downstreet visitors and activities. The new Chamber Executive Director Holly Sault describes the Millers as “very community-oriented,” adding that “Rob has improved the space, and is working up a business plan based on demand and need of community members. We’re transforming the Island Speed Space into a business.”

“I’ve heard stories of people coming to the island and automatically thinking they know best, and we’re trying not to do that,” says Miller. “We’re learning as we go and figuring out what it is that community members need or want. We don’t want changes that negatively affect the quality of life of this community.”

He adds, “We’re having the upstairs renovated, and Jen and I will be doing a lot of the interior renovations over time. I’m also working to get licensed as a lawyer in Maine, so I can offer legal services while on the island as well.”

According to Sault and Miller, another feature includes a small conference space in the back third of the building that offers an amazing view of Carvers Pond, and the technology to support virtual meetings. The conference space will get immediate use by the PET Dock (Pet Emergency Telehealth), so pet owners can get an assessment on whether or not they have to travel to the mainland.

Although he still lives in Texas full time,  Miller expects to get a sense of how The Work Dock is working out for tenants and hear what benefits the community is seeing when he returns to the island for the month of August. “Eventually, I can even see people coming over from Rockland to work the day, or a few days, at The Work Dock, just for a change of scenery,” says Miller. “We’ve got the fastest internet on the island, and we’ll keep up with upgrades to it.”

In addition to the technical and practical features of these work spaces, coworking spaces also offer another opportunity for people to meet and network within communities. “The benefit of networking is huge,” says Miller. “How else do you find out what you need? You meet people and learn what you need to know; and as you meet people, they’ll introduce you to other people.”

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