Lightning Jar coworking space to open this summer in VSECU branch

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Correction: The town is finalizing an application for a grant. The article below has been updated to reflect this.

BENNINGTON — Not being tied to an office has its advantages, but the solo small business owner, who stands to become the norm in the workforce according to some, often doesn't have anyone to bounce ideas off or a way of getting a fresh perspective.

The Lightning Jar may change that, locally.

The Lightning Jar is a coworking space to be located at the new branch of Vermont State Employee Credit Union (open to all who work or live in Vermont) on North Street. The credit union celebrated its official grand opening on Tuesday, during which the benefits of the coming Lightning Jar were touted.

According to Dimitri Garder, the Lightning Jar's interim director, the 1,200-square-foot coworking space should open this summer, offering small business owners, entrepreneurs, and the like a space to work surrounded by others like themselves whom they share ideas and collaborate with.

Garder, a co-founder of Global-Z International, said about 30 percent of the American workforce does business outside of an office, with that number expected to climb to 60 percent by 2020. "The majority of U.S. office workers are going to be physically untethered from the traditional corporate office," he said.

About 17 million U.S. workers identify as "solopreneurs," or one-person businesses such as freelancers, consultants, or contractors, said Garder. Businesses in general are relying more and more on these people, with the size of the average small business having shrunk over time.

Garder said that in his own experience, he works while traveling and after spending half a day in meetings he won't return to a hotel room to work, but will instead go to a place like a coffee shop where others like himself gather.

"You can start conversations and talk about ideas in a way that you couldn't get in your home office," he said.

The Lightning Jar aims to be such a place. Garder said the details have to be worked out still, but those wanting to use the space will likely go through a membership process. Those who pay for full access get everything the Lightning Jar offers. Desk space, office space, break room, meeting room, and a spot during the various networking programs and events the Lightning Jar will host. What the other tiers are has yet to be determined. There is talk of offering day passes and possibly setting up a local college with a stock of such passes for students to use.

Outreach has begun now, he said, with the goal to get between 50 and 100 members over the course of three months.

Information on how to sign up and use the space can be found at www.lightningjarvt.com.

Garder said there are at least 850 coworking spaces in the United States and thousands in Europe. He said Bennington has been looking for a coworking space for a long time and was approached by Rob Miller, chief executive officer of VSECU, who helped make it work.

"There are very few organizations who would go into a project like this just on vision and see what the future could look like," said Garder. "They've put in significant resources to make this happen and this could never have happened if it weren't for such a strong partnership with a group like VSECU."

He said local legislators, town administrators, and Select Board members were all supportive and helpful in bringing the project about.

"We are now at a point where we need to build interest and membership," said Garder. "Coworking is all about community, so now is the time to build that community and interest to make this project a success."

Miller said the support from the Bennington community was a main reason the credit union decided to enter into the partnership.

House Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford, who is chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, said this project was awarded $20,000 from the Building and General Services economic development grant program. The money went to fix up the space the Lightning Jar will use, which was a former Blockbuster video rental store.

The town is also finalizing an application for a second grant to assist in covering the cost, Miller said.

Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington said the credit union and Lightning Jar represent a boon to the downtown as they are a revitalization of a formerly vacant space.

Harrington said the space will support small businesses and help them grow.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567, Ext. 115.


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