By Howaida Sorour-Roberts
Jessica Webster and Jeff Depatie are new to the area. He’s with the armed forces and she’s a marketing professional from San Diego. Together they are opening Meraki Collective, a co-work centre in downtown Smiths Falls.
“One thing I found in Smiths Falls is a lot of grit and hope. In spite of all the closures people don’t want to leave, they want to stay,” says Webster.
That, combined with the town’s proximity to Ottawa and infrastructure that positions the town perfectly for growth made it a no-brainer for the two to create this space.
“Being someone who has grown up in mega cities, we fantasize about a place like Smiths Falls,” says Webster.
The couple have bought the Knights of Columbus building on William Street and they’re in the process of transforming it. “The idea is to create a space that feels like you’re in a summery environment. There will be a living wall and we’re bringing in special lighting that mimics sunlight. There will be different zones to accommodate people who like to stand at their desks, or sit, or lounge on a sofa, or on the floor. There will be common areas and space for people to walk around,” says Webster.
She says design is extremely important, but often ignored in many co-work centres, to their detriment. “I’ve seen co-work centres that are just cubicles packed into an uninspired space,” says Webster.
With her partner, Webster want to create a space that’s designed to welcome and inspire, with all the modern facilities that professionals who work remotely expect and need.
“People who work within the innovation horizontal are professionals and aspiring professionals who support the new economy (for example, skilled workers in the creative, design, marketing, engineering, knowledge services) who have high-value jobs that are at the core of any industry,” writes Webster in her blog.
According to Webster, these skilled professionals rarely relocate with the outsource exodus, but have the ability to stay at home for several reasons: first, their skills transcend their industry, so they can easily work from home, secondly their job by nature can be performed remotely.
To attract and accommodate them, Webster and her partner will carefully design the space and equip it with high speed wi-fi, and a media room with podcast and video equipment. She also envisions knowledge sharing and workshops where professionals with particular strengths in one area share their knowledge and strengths with the rest of the collective.
Webster believes there is a market for this type of collective, because professionals working from home often feel isolated and of course are not engaged in the downtown economy. Both are problems that leave the professional less satisfied with their life and at the same time removed from the economy of the town.
“When people work downtown they tend to be more engaged with the town, whether buying a coffee or going out to lunch or just walking through the town,” she says.
Meraki Collective aims to be far more than just a co-work space she explains. It’s more about encouraging urban revitalization by offering a collaborative space designed to recruit and retain talent in the creative, technical, innovative, and knowledge services, she explains.
“This hub will keep money within the town, harness the assets of local institutions, encourage work/life balance, and empower the community to support the continued economic success of the area and its exceptional way of life,” writes Webster.
“I hope our launch can counteract the pain of the mall closing,” concludes Webster.
For more information check out their website at merakicollective.ca
Photo Credit: merakicollective.ca