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Smithfield coworking space opens

If home no longer feels like a productive place for work, the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce has an option.

The chamber recently debuted the Hamtown Hub, a new coworking space in the organization’s longtime headquarters at 100 Main St. in downtown Smithfield.

For people in and around town who need to or have to work from home, the idea is that the hub will be an attractive, professional place for people who can’t or don’t want to work at their kitchen table, in a spare bedroom, on the couch or in whatever makeshift space they’ve put together during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This idea of coworking, it’s not new but it is newer to our area,” said Jessica Jones-Healey, the chamber’s president. “When COVID hit and we had to close the [chamber] building down anyway, the board decided that was the perfect opportunity to do something with the building while we were shut down and couldn’t be open to the public anyway.”

When the chamber first moved into the building in the early 1990s, Jones-Healey said the organization had a staff of about 10 people. Back then, “every process was very manual at that time. Like many companies over the years, technology has kind of taken over and we’ve dwindled our staff down just because a lot of things we do now are digital and automated. It got to the point — I would say probably two years ago — where we were taking a look at that building and we’re saying ‘We’ve got this great asset but there’s only two staff in there.’”

Renovations began in August 2020. Jones-Healey said the building has undergone a complete remodeling.

“We are pretty much at the end of it at this point and hopefully will be opening up for tours of the space next week,” Jones-Healey said in a March 23 interview. The momentum to establish a coworking space wasn’t a direct result of the pandemic, but timing to put the initiative into action aligned with changes to how nearly everyone is working.

The coworking space has bright, solid, modern colors and design with some rustic elements. “We realize that the people who will be using the space are going to be from many different professions. We wanted it to be attractive for maybe a startup tech company or marketing company all the way to financial, legal, things like that. So we wanted to make sure it was a good, clean, updated space to fit everyone’s needs and tastes,” Jones-Healey said.

Jones-Healey is also hopeful that the space will serve as a business incubator since professionals from all backgrounds, along with chamber members, staff and community visitors, will cross paths. Mischelle Goodman, chairwoman of the chamber’s board of directors, shared that sentiment.

“I’m super excited to be able to help the chamber bring something like the Hamtown Hub to Isle of Wight County and to downtown Smithfield,” Goodman said in an email. “It is a great opportunity for the chamber to utilize its perfectly situated building to be an additional resource to local businesses and continue to build a strong sense of community.”

The space is designed with flexibility in mind to comfortably accommodate about 25 people — even with social distancing. There’s shared desks, standing desks and lounge areas if you prefer a more casual work environment. The Wi-Fi is enhanced and can support up to 200 devices simultaneously. That will give the space the capability to host digital workshops. There’s a keyless entry and a full security system with cameras. It also has printing and copying services, a conference room and a kitchen.

Access to the hub starts at $15 per month for an a la carte day pass to the lounge. It includes Wi-Fi, kitchen and lounge access, along with basic office supplies if needed. A $150 per month membership provides shared desk space, a semi-private office, three conference room bookings at no extra charge and access to all amenities and services.

The benefits may also extend beyond the hub’s walls by contributing to downtown’s economic vitality when hub users decide to take a break and grab a coffee, lunch or patronize a nearby business. Jones-Healey said some businesses plan to offer specials or food delivery for hub users and members.