The new iWerx Gladstone will open doors this fall for a wide range of organizations and individuals both figuratively and literally.
Like the two-year-old iWerx in North Kansas City, the latest venture will serve as a co-working space and business incubator. Located at 7001 N. Locust St. in growing Downtown Gladstone, the location will offer a nurturing environment for nearly 80 small businesses and startups. Beginning last month, the site became home to the Clay County Economic Development Council and two of its affiliates, Midwest Small Business Finance and the Northland Angel Investor Network. The latter two focus almost exclusively on helping startups and small businesses.
The location is ideal in other ways. Gladstone’s efforts to “bootstrap” its downtown include a community center, Linden Square, the Heights of Linden Square and the Northland Innovation Campus. With an upscale restaurant, more advanced education and other amenities on the way, the opportunity to start and grow local businesses will be a mutually beneficial addition.
“We’ve got a lot going in that downtown area, and we thought iWerx would be a perfect fit,” explained Gladstone Assistant City Manager Robert Baer. “It’s really a win-win for everyone.”
The work is taking place in a two-story, 30,000-square-foot former office building that was originally constructed as a racquetball center in 1974. Although final designs are still under way, plans call for an extensive use of glass and an open-air deck on the second floor. The main elements will include up to 80 offices, four areas for retail development and eight community rooms. iWerx Gladstone also will feature 10-gig internet connectivity provided by KC Fiber, the same speed that has proven a plus for high-tech entrepreneurs at the NKC location.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The biggest impact is expected to be more than architectural improvement, however. Dozens of new companies and hundreds of new jobs could ultimately spring from the location’s entrepreneurial efforts. Although not all will succeed, those that do are likely to create significant economic development.
That goal played a key role in Gladstone’s planning. “Why not start with a business and have them incubate in that building and grow to the point where they go out on their own and find a new building in this area,” Baer noted. “They grow in this area, and they are likely to stay in the area.” And this is along with their jobs and other economic benefits.
A Denver organization originally approached Gladstone with another incubator idea, but the city felt the proposal was too expensive. iWerx was achieving success in North Kansas City, and at about the same time, the Locust Street location became available. After considerable study, the city broached the idea of a partnership, and, with the help of Missouri Chapter 100 Bonds, iWerx Gladstone is expected to open this fall.
“We looked at what they had done in North Kansas City,” Baer said of the iWerx team. “If they can make an old industrial building look that good, I’m really looking forward to what they can do here.”
iWerx partner Bob Martin said the Gladstone location will have some differences from its NKC parent, one of which is more individual offices that provide the critical components of startups.
“One thing we’ve learned is that there’s a real thirst for lower-priced office space,” Martin explained. “Our hope is to keep more of those entry-level offices open while still offering conferencing, free WIFI and other amenities. The benefits remain the same, but it’s more affordable.”
Martin expects to see results relatively soon after the Gladstone opening. In the two-year-old NKC location, one-person ventures have already grown enough to need and afford new locations.
“We see a lot of opportunity in Gladstone,” Martin said. “It’s very exciting.”
Some businesses might hesitate to open a second location so near the first, but another iWerx partner sees no problem, thanks to the demand for startup space. “We’ve already got people interested in both iWerx locations,” John Miller, Sr., explained. “It’s not a problem when you’re 100 percent full. There’s a lot of demand.”
Miller said a significant business trend is behind that demand. Walking through the open architecture of the North Kansas City iWerx, he’s often struck by the diversity of the entrepreneurs and their business ideas. “It’s interesting how some people make money today,” he noted. “It’s such a creative time, and we’re going to have a lot of stories about people with unusual ideas building businesses.”
Offering that kind of creative business environment is also why the Clay County EDC promotes these initiatives. “We’re always looking for better ways to do things,” explained Jim Hampton, co-executive director of the Clay County Economic Development Council. “Creating opportunities for people to develop and grow businesses in Clay County is one of those fundamental building blocks for economic development. Small businesses account for a huge proportion of new job creation, and this is a way to help that happen.”