Fort Wayne prepares for growth in freelancing, entrepreneurship

May 6th, 2016

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May 6, 2016

Fort Wayne prepares for growth in freelancing, entrepreneurship

Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The Institute for Excellence in Writing provided a perfect showcase for the marketing and design skills Jon Swerens had honed for years at a local newspaper and then as communications director for the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce.

Organizations in the region who were impressed with his work wanted his help with a number of projects, and before long he was hiring other designers as needed to complete them on time. He eventually founded Rockhill Design.

The company is coming up on its third anniversary. It operates out of CoWork Fort Wayne on the fifth floor of the Murphy Building at 809 S. Calhoun St. in the city’s downtown area.

The business startup path Swerens sometimes jokingly describes as “accidental entrepreneurship” is not new, but it seems to be gaining increasing acceptance as a viable means of earning a living.

Contingent working trend

Entrepreneurs, freelancers and contingency workers are going to play an increasingly important role in business in the coming years and Fort Wayne is preparing for that.

A February report based on a Deloitte survey said more than one in three U.S. workers are freelancers and that figure is projected to grow to 40 percent by 2020. Of the executives surveyed, 42 percent said they planned in the next three to five years to increase their use of contingent workers.

“The acceptance of that has certainly grown a lot,” Swerens said. “For example, very few people are put off discovering I don’t have an actual office, but I’m not sure that would have been the case 10 years ago.

“I think it’s just become more commonplace to work with contractors and freelancers. Taking on a full time employee has a lot of risks.”

Freelancing has been encouraged by the launch of online platforms designed to match talent from woodworking to web development with businesses and individuals willing to pay for it, in much the same way that Uber matches cars and drivers with customers who need a ride.

Temporary help services do a lot of that matching for businesses. The number of temporary service employees as a portion of northeast Indiana’s total payroll employment has grown to 2.51 percent last year from 1.21 percent in 2001.

For the Fort Wayne metro area it has grown to 2.65 percent from 1.39 percent, according to data supplied by Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute.

Testing candidates

In addition to filling in gaps when labor shortages are starting to develop, some employers use temp agencies to evaluate individuals they are considering as candidates for permanent, full-time jobs, said Valerie Richardson, a research associate with the institute.

“A lot of these companies use Manpower as an extension of their human resources department,” said Carla Hanson, manager of the temporary help agency’s Fort Wayne office.

“The world of staffing has developed, evolved and changed over the past several years to become more relevant than it has ever been, given the talent shortage.”

In northeast Indiana, the shortage seems greatest within the skilled trades, but Manpower’s recruiting services also help employers in the region address shortages within a variety of technical and professional skill areas, she said.

Skill shortages also create freelancing opportunities, and the number of northeast Indiana residents doing freelance work that would not qualify for inclusion as part of the region’s total payroll employment has grown 13 percent to 66,844 last year from 59,000 in 2006, according to data supplied by CRI.

Nurturing entrepreneurship

Freelancing can lead to entrepreneurship and economic development officials in the area are working to improve its climate for entrepreneurship, particularly in higher paying professional and technical industry clusters.

Nurturing entrepreneurship is one of five pillars in the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 plan. Ryan Twiss works on that as its regional initiatives director.

Much of the entrepreneurship work the partnership has underway relates to identifying the amount and nature of the support available in the region to individuals interested in starting a business, he said.

Among the area’s busier organizations working to promote entrepreneurship is Start Fort Wayne. The nonprofit group building a community hub for entrepreneurship plans to open co-working space this summer in the downtown Fort Wayne office building occupied by the Hoch Associates architectural firm.

The Atrium will operate in about 5,500 square feet – including the entire second floor – of 111 W. Berry St. It will replace about 1,800 square feet of spare office space the Avenue 80 software development firm has been making available for co-working at CoWork Fort Wayne.

The regional partnership learned through Start Fort Wayne of an Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation program designed to help spark entrepreneurship, called 1 Million Cups, and they worked together to get it started in Fort Wayne, Twiss said.

It brings entrepreneurs and individuals interested in supporting entrepreneurship together for a discussion at 9 a.m. every Wednesday.

Entrepreneurs make 6-minute presentations at the meetings on issues they are encountering taking their business to the next level, then invite questions or comments. The group then discusses a community question related to business formation and growth or the region’s entrepreneurial climate.

Sweetwater Sound has been providing a space for the meetings without charge at its location at 5501 U.S. 30 and Utopian Coffee Co. has been providing coffee for the meetings without charge.

“It’s a great community event because we all get to know each other and talk about real substantive issues,” Dave Sanders, co-founder and president of Avenue 80 and president of Start Fort Wayne, said of 1 Million Cups. “We’ve been seeing a lot of interest increasing in that every week.”

The Kauffman Foundation studies and promotes entrepreneurship and tracks entrepreneurial activity at the state and metro level for rankings it publishes.

Growing business

The most recent state ranking had Indiana’s entrepreneurial activity level at 44th in the nation and Start Fort Wayne wants to help improve that, Sanders said.

“We’re going to be speaking with them shortly to learn more about the data they collect and figure out how to add to the data they’re collecting,” he said. “What we want to do is make sure any program we’re putting money in or effort behind is actually making a difference.”

Start Fort Wayne’s Atrium project is the most important effort underway to encourage entrepreneurship in the region, said Mark Richter, vice president for special projects at Indiana Tech and executive director of its Center for Creative Collaboration.

“That’s a major milestone,” he said. “That’s going to give the freelancer, the entrepreneur and others a place to work and meet with others of like mind and kind of cross-fertilize and build off each other’s work.”

Atrium will have 22 desks with storage, six offices, four small conference rooms, two mid-size conference rooms, a 25-seat training room and common space for 20 to 40 members. It will offer broadband and use of a copier/printer/fax machine, a kitchen with coffee and a stage with an audio/visual setup.

Monthly memberships are $350 for an office with a locking door that can accommodate two to four desks. Members with an office can display a business sign outside and inside. For $150 monthly, Atrium offers a reserved desk and locking cabinet. Both membership levels provide around-the-clock access.

Monthly memberships also are available for $50. They don’t come with a reserved desk and members at that level only get to use the building from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. All members get free coffee and conference room access at Atrium.

More than 40 individuals have signed up to use the Atrium, which initially will be able to accommodate 150, Richter said. Over time, its capacity could reach 200. Sanders said it may get some business from freelancers, but most of the people using it are likely to be entrepreneurs or road warriors who need temporary work space in Fort Wayne.

“It gives them an alternative to working out of a house or coffee shop or expensive office locations,” Richter said. “Hopefully they will grow and prosper and build companies and move on to some other kind of office situation in the future.”

The Atrium has received funding from Indiana Tech, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, the Journal Gazette Foundation and Greater Fort Wayne, through its Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance 501(c)3.