Coworking in rural America

Before the pandemic, coworking spaces were on the rise, with the flexibility they offered appealing to workers across industries. While the coworking trend began in major cities, it has spread to rural regions as well; Proximity, a coworking software platform (and one that received investment from the CORI Innovation Fund), had more than 250 rural spaces in its network in 2020.

Coming out of the pandemic, coworking spaces will play a key role in rural economic success. When CORI works with rural communities, we take a comprehensive approach to developing digital economy ecosystem strategies. We see coworking and entrepreneurship spaces as part of a community’s “necessary infrastructure” — the components that allow a place to compete in the digital economy.

To learn more about how rural coworking spaces make an impact, we spoke with Kate Schwarzler, founder of Indy Commons, a coworking space and business hub in Independence, Oregon — one of our Rural Innovation Network communities. Below we share Kate’s top four reasons why coworking matters in small town communities.

1. Coworking spaces improve the local business community and make Main Street vibrant

Coworking provides more than just space to work. A successful space can offer resources to the business community, make connections that advance local commerce, and host events that foster a stronger business climate. Many remote workers or sole proprietors often have to work from home or from less expensive locations outside the town center since paying higher rent doesn’t make business sense.

A downtown coworking space, however, can give people like this an opportunity to work on main street in the center of the action — both better incorporating these talented people into the community and driving traffic and business to other nearby shops.

2. Coworking spaces can create community, especially in a post-COVID environment for remote workers

It’s easy to see coworking as simply selling desks, selling wifi, or selling a coffee pot. But in reality, coworking spaces are about selling a sense of community — and one where people can actively participate.

Coworking spaces can serve as the home base for groups of like minded individuals and businesses that want to combine flexibility with the social camaraderie of the traditional office. Knowing that there are people dealing with similar issues, people to bounce ideas around with, people to learn from and share opportunities with — the benefits are huge. This is especially true for remote workers in rural areas, who often don’t have outlets to connect with or even find each other. With a coworking space as a central hub, this community of talented people can build social bonds at a place where they can also advance their careers.

3. Coworking spaces create new kinds of opportunities in rural areas that improve quality of life

Rural areas are known for their high quality of life: beautiful scenery, strong communities, open space, lower costs of living, and more. But too often, people don’t see these towns as places for a career. With a strong coworking presence, rural communities can have both. Coworking spaces offer a home for remote workers and longtime residents alike looking to connect in new ways.

As Kate put it, the opportunities presented by rural coworking “allow people to write their own life, plan their own life, and realize they can live in these amazing rural areas while also having a career that is fulfilling and exciting.” By adding this integral component to local ecosystems, coworking spaces both expand and tap into existing community assets to create a more diversified and sustainable economy.

4. Coworking spaces can elevate a culture of entrepreneurship to the next level

A rural coworking space will are more likely to succeed when they have the support of the community. That takes legwork, because often coworking is a new concept to many small towns. But if the town culture is one that encourages experimentation, innovation, and forward-thinking, then with time, coworking spaces can be seen for the assets they are. This is most true when the community has a culture of inclusive technology, with an active effort made to encourage all groups to participate and be celebrated.

With this culture and physical space both in place, communities can build on their coworking infrastructure to lay the groundwork for a stronger digital economy ecosystem that drives entrepreneurship and local business success.

Let Indy Commons be an example

Kate’s story and her space at Indy Commons form a prime example of putting these principles into practice. She grew up in a very small town in Oregon, and she often heard that places like hers just didn’t have good jobs, so she would have to leave to look for a career.

She got tired of hearing that, so when she returned to rural Oregon in Independence, she had a mission: create a space that builds the community and lets people form careers they’re proud of from the small town they loved. As Indy Commons has grown, it’s always kept the community at its core, becoming a space with shared resources, shared expertise, and a shared sense of potential for an inclusive local economy.

Rural places everywhere should share in this insight — and build their own coworking spaces too, forming the foundation of a strong digital economy ecosystem to come.


Stay in touch

To learn more about leaders like Kate in our Rural Innovation Network, explore this page. To learn more about the direct drivers powering rural digital economies, see our model. And to keep tabs on all the work CORI is doing across the country, sign up for our newsletter