High River's business development specialist Angela Groeneveld answers 5 questions about Coworking Takeover Week's pilot project in her community

Angela Groeneveld is business development specialist for the Town of High River. She spoke with Calgary’s Business about High River being chosen by Rural on Purpose to launch Canada’s first Coworking Takeover Week – a pilot project running this week highlighting the growing global trend of shared workspaces.

Angela Groeneveld, business development specialist for the Town of High River.

Calgary’s Business: What’s the Coworking Takeover Week all about?

Groeneveld: Coworking Takeover Week is part of a pilot project developed by Rural on Purpose. Rural on Purpose is a social enterprise working to create economic opportunities in rural communities through entrepreneurship.

Studies show that within a decade the majority of our workforce will be freelance, and 18 per cent of all freelancers currently live in rural areas. The Rural Coworking Pilot engages, educates and collects data from community members over a 10-week period ending with a Coworking Takeover Week, where the town becomes a coworking community for one week.

Business owners have a chance to test a potential secondary income stream by creating space in the under-utilized areas of their business for freelancers to work in. Freelancers and home-based workers get a chance to connect and collaborate with other remote workers, as well as members of the High River business community.

The pilot is testing a rural solution to building a freelance support ecosystem. It involves the entire community, explores business expansion and retention opportunities and provides an alternative to the standalone coworking centre that is statistically unsustainable in rural communities. The pilot tests for desirability (does the community want it?), feasibility (can they build it?) and viability (is it financially sustainable?). Results and recommendations are provided to the town two weeks after Coworking Takeover Week concludes.

Calgary’s Business: How important is it for High River and its business community to be participating in this?

Groeneveld: We are continually building towards being the best place to invest, and we have done this through initiatives such as the revitalization of our award-winning, people-first downtown. You feel like you have stepped into a street in Europe, and your creativity is instantly inspired.

We have recently adopted an innovative Land Use Bylaw that is out of the box and very open for business anywhere in High River. We have invested in building out our own fibre-optic, high-speed broadband service, which is the No. 1 utility for any successful business to operate.

To complete this attractive ecosystem, we are creating space for all types of entrepreneurs and providing the opportunity for our local business owners to leverage this forward-thinking model. Inspiring the business community to lead and create is what High River is all about. This project was a perfect fit for our story.

Calgary’s Business: What are the benefits of this initiative for business owners in the community?

Groeneveld: By participating in this pilot project, they are testing a model to diversify their business to the modern workforce and discovering if our community is ready for it and can sustain it. Based on numerous studies, we know that freelance and remote workers will be 50 per cent of the workforce in the future.

Participating business owners have an opportunity to attract new customers into their space, which can increase their bottom line.

Things are changing in rural communities, and we need to retain our local brick-and-mortar operations and continue to build our downtown’s vibrancy. The benefit of this project is to attract a variety of people to be part of that vibrancy and help the local business community continue to grow and thrive.

Calgary’s Business: Is the concept of coworking gaining ground in High River and if so why?

Groeneveld: Absolutely, Since we have brought this pilot project to High River, the biggest question over the last six weeks was, “What is coworking space?” In large urban areas, this is a second language.

From this pilot project we have one new business that is opening a permanent coworking space and, last I checked, we have 11 participating local vendors who may continue to provide coworking space when the pilot project ends. We have had excellent traffic on our www.coworkinghighriver website, which provides fantastic exposure to our community and our participating local businesses. People from all over are contacting us to learn what we are doing and excited to see the final report.

Calgary’s Business: It’s been close to five years since the big flood. Where’s High River’s economy today in light of that?

Groeneveld: High River’s economy is strong and growing. We have gained a lot of momentum with our recovery efforts and mitigation projects, and we are the most flood-protected community in Canada. We are very close to the finish line on our recovery rebuild and are like a brand-new town.

Since 2013 we have seen more than 285,000 square feet of commercial development, and the town is gorgeous everywhere you look. We also have plenty of beautiful green space and walking trails near downtown and along the Highwood River. One example of High River’s commercial development is welcoming Farmers Business Network to the community and being the company’s Canadian headquarters.

– Mario Toneguzzi

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