WAYNESBORO — In an effort to help entreprenuers and kickstart business growth in Waynesboro, an innovative "co-working space" will open in downtown Waynesboro at the The Farmhaus on Main, a cafe at 908 W. Main St., about a block west of the high school.

The initiative is a collaboration between Grow Waynesboro, an arm of the city's Office of Economic Development and Tourism, and the owners of the Farmhaus. The space, which will open in February, is meant to be a creative, supportive and low-cost work environment for those starting their own business, or researching the cost, viability and demand for one.

Co-working spaces are part of a growing trend among cities looking to kickstart economic development and business growth within their borders. The idea is to offer nascent business owners, and entrepreneurs a flexible work environment where they have access to amenities not normally available to those just starting out in business or still trying to get their idea off the ground.

"[It's] a concept that urges merges the spirit of the start-up with the support of collaborative space," according to a release from Grow Waynesboro. 

At Waynesboro's co-working space, the Farmhaus will sell coffee, breakfast and lunch downstairs, while entrepreneurs use the co-working space upstairs. There is no cost to use the space, but reservations for certain features, such as the site's conference table, are encouraged.

Shared printing equipment, free high-speed internet, individual workspaces and other business amenities also will be available at the site. The equipment is being provided by Grow Waynesboro through a grant from the  Department of Housing and Community Development. The opportunity to receive business mail at the co-working site is an additional benefit available to local entrepreneurs using the space, according to the release.

Aaron Mallory, co-founder of The Farmhaus on Main, said they are excited to be part of the program in a press release.

“As young entrepreneurs investing in downtown Waynesboro, we are excited to be a part of this new public-private partnership, and also to meet and interact with many of the local start-up entrepreneurs we hope will be [using] the space,” he said in a statement.  “As local business owners, we have so much to learn from each other, and I know we will all benefit from being more connected and engaged in a network of local entrepreneurship."

Courtney Cranor, assistant economic development and tourism director for the city, said the co-working area is an innovative way to determine the demand for a creative working environment in Waynesboro.

While it's hard to pin down the number of independent business freelancers and entrepreneurs in the area, Cranor said there are clearly more than the office realized initially. She is excited about the prospect for growth, both among individual businesses and the city as a whole, that could take root in the co-working space.

“I think that one benefit will be awareness,” she said. “There are a lot of small businesses in Waynesboro. [A benefit will be] having a place where people can network and bounce ideas off of each other. It helps strengthen businesses and gives them a place to talk to peers and interact, but it also helps create awareness for Waynesboro as a place for entrepreneurs.”

The co-working space will open in February. Cranor said the city will monitor and evaluate its success and the need for it after six months and again after a year.

The release also noted that Grow Waynesboro is also seeking to fill the 2017 roster of start-up entrepreneurs. After completing a business planning course, participants will be eligible to compete for up to $51,000 in start-up funds this spring.

The application date is Jan. 17. For more information, visit GrowWaynesboro.com.

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