CEDAR FALLS — Millrace CoWorking Space isn’t even a year old, but it’s already on the move.
Millrace, designed for companies that are a step beyond the “incubation” phase, was launched in November in downtown Cedar Falls.
It was always a temporary location. The building, at 10 Main St., once housed the Cedar Falls offices of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber. Now it is property of Western Home Communities, which plans to develop the site.
The venue shifts this summer to larger, permanent quarters in developer Mark Kittrell’s $35 million River Place residential and commercial project along State Street.
Millrace is home to eight companies in various stages of development with the potential for much more expected soon, Kittrell said.
“I think there are 20 to 30 people working at Millrace on a regular basis and quite a few drop-ins. Our space alone is probably set up for well over 300,” he said.
The new Millrace features about 11,000 square feet, about five times larger than in the old chamber building.
It’s just part of a growing “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Kittrell said.
He listed accommodations at the University of Northern Iowa, along with the new id8 co-working center inside Visual Logic’s building in downtown Waterloo, as well as the nascent Cedar Valley Makerspace on the TechWorks Campus.
“We have 300-500 people we’re going to have working on startups in this community,” he said.
Millrace is more than a place for entrepreneurs to operate; it’s fertile ground for ideas, and that’s its most essential ingredient, said Trace Steffen, co-founder of startup HowFactory, which moved its operation into Millrace in 2015.
“We need a location for meet-ups and where a new entrepreneur can walk in the door and have a place to talk or a leadership group to have a place to work,” Steffen said in February, not long after he had moved his two-year-old operation into the building. “There’s probably been 150 people that have been around this building that are part of an existing business, have an idea they want to learn from or someone who’s an educator from a feeder system like the Alliance. This has become a meeting area for them.”
Collaboration was key in getting Millrace going, with Western Home Communities having provided the space and Cedar Falls Utilities having connected 1-gigabyte Internet access.
Co-working spaces such as Millrace lead to growth of the community because they contribute “quality-of-life” factors young workers seek, Kittrell said.
“We travel around and see growing communities that are attracting young people,” he said. “Very much what we hear and see in research is where young people want to live is just as important as where they want to work. About 60 percent of them select an area and then find a job.”
That’s a switch from previous generations of workers who simply moved wherever work was available.
“What young people are saying is very much the opposite. They want great amenities, events and things going on. It’s live, work and play.”
Millrace is designed with that in mind.
“We wanted ... a place where any number of young people can set up and share some ideas, and hopefully we could add some programs so they could learn entrepreneurialism,” Kittrell said.
Kittrell said he knows whereof he speaks.
“I’ve started about 30 companies in my day and a number have involved people in the area,” he said. “We need computers, printers, where to have mail delivered — all that stuff that takes time but doesn’t create any value for the company. So, we created these suites, not necessarily for people who have a company but for those who want to start a company.”
Jonathan Taiber, who works for Chicago-based Polsky Holdings, says he knows the startup business well. He pays $150 a month for a desk at Millrace.
“I think this is a great segue way to entrepreneurship,” said Taiber, who moved in last fall.