How Coworking is Impacting Economic Development

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This is the first in a series on coworking spaces in Indiana. This piece focuses on The Refinery Center in Marion:

The Refinery Center in Marion is a coworking space started by Marion native Shelby Bowen, VP of Development at construction management and development company Envoy, Inc. Bowen, who now lives in Fishers, still has much of his heart in his home town of Marion.

“I have a passion for Marion,” shares Bowen, who was inspired by what he observed at Launch Fishers while working for the city of Fishers. “I kept seeing Indiana Wesleyan University students and faculty from Marion inside of Launch Fishers and thought about doing something similar in Marion.”

Given what was happening with Launch Fishers, it became clear that a new means of economic development was underway, with a happy side effect of establishing a strong sense community that could be replicated in other parts of the state.

With financial support from the Community Foundation and Indiana Wesleyan University, a former pool hall was transformed into The Refinery. Jim Swan, who owns the building, understood the concept and worked with The Refinery on their financial constraints of starting a co-working space. The Refinery offers low-cost monthly access without long-term leases. The amenities include Wi-Fi, a professional environment with other like-minded people, conference rooms, dedicated workspace, and an on-site cafe.

“The Community Foundation played the key role in making The Refinery a reality by awarding us the Big Idea grant, the largest grant in their history,” shares Bowen, who serves as Executive Director of The Refinery. “We are very grateful to the Community Foundation and to Indiana Wesleyan University for their continuous support of The Refinery.”

When Bowen started The Refinery, he wanted the Center to take on the character of the community in Grant County, a place with a deep history in manufacturing and service industries. Dawn Cooper-Bowlds, of Dawn’s Cleaning Solution, was the first member to join after The Refinery opened late September, 2015. Cooper-Bowlds had researched potential office locations when she discovered The Refinery Center on Facebook. At that time, she was doing her paperwork in her car while she traveled the region, hosting interviews for new employees in restaurants.

“I was looking for a space just like this one,” shares Cooper-Bowlds. “I do my interviews here, held our Christmas party here, and I love the professionalism of having an actual business address.”

“It is critical to have resources to utilize for a business, like Dawn’s Cleaning Solution.” states Bowen. “Dawn’s business epitomizes the fact that you don’t have to be a tech company or want to start, build, or create an app to be a member of a coworking space.”

Carl Nichols, an independent rep of Creative Financial Design with Coveted Investment Mgmt., has leased dedicated office space upstairs at The Refinery for over a year.

“Over the years, I have mostly worked from home and out of restaurants,” says Nichols. “There were challenges with client meetings if unable to meet in their home and spending a lot of time on the road is not efficient. The Refinery provided a solution. There is an elevator, which is helpful in accommodating my clients.”

Nichols takes advantage of the Indiana Coworking Passport. When he travels to Ft. Wayne, South Bend, or Indianapolis, he is able to work out of partnering coworking locations.

Jason Lowmiller, founder of Lowmiller Consulting and a friend of Holland’s, walked into The Refinery and upon seeing the sign for their Coder Dojo, said, “I have been looking for a Coder Dojo! There is one in Indy but there’s one here? I want to be involved with it!”

The enthusiasm is catching.

The Refinery’s Communications Director, Jess Holland, volunteers at the local library, where she is working on establishing another Coder Dojo. The resources are there and Holland is planning fun activities with joining both groups of kids upon completion of a project. The Coder Dojos are overseen by TechPoint Foundation for Youth, based inside of DeveloperTown in Indianapolis.

Lowmiller and Victor Vinluan, who works with Lowmiller Consulting, have an office in the loft of The Refinery. Their company focuses upon information security.

"We focus upon solutions for our clients to mitigate threats to their business, whether it is cyber security, equipment failure, hacking, if they lose a server - basically anything that would threaten a business,” says Lowmiller, who also teaches at Ivy Tech Community College and at Indiana Wesleyan University. “When I was a student, I was the guy sitting at the back of the classroom facilitating the blue screens for the rest of the class, smiling.”

Thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment, Indiana Wesleyan University facilitates entrepreneurial events at The Refinery. Spark Tank, a pitch competition was held January 28th, with the winner receiving $2000 for their startup. Tyler and Beka Thompson, creators of Cat Tails, were selected as the winner from the 8 participants that had competed. Their kickstarter campaign will launch in April.

“This program is funded through the Lilly Endowment’s “Accelerate Indiana” grant, which seeks to encourage entrepreneurial activity among students and local entrepreneurs,” says Carol Brown, Associate Dean of Life Calling & Career at Indiana Wesleyan University. “We fund internships, even if the company is a student-run business with the goal of creating jobs in Indiana.”

The Refinery serves a broad range of companies and organizations. The 2013 census shows the population of Marion to be 29,553. Since opening late September of 2015, The Refinery currently has 31 members.

“We listened to the needs of the community,” says Bowen. “We have not taken a cookie cutter approach to the coworking space. We offer very affordable monthly memberships starting at $30/month and host a lot of meetings here at no charge. We are also a community center in addition to a work space.”

Kara Kavensky is president of Absolutely Consulting Inc.

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