State lawmakers have plenty to debate as the two chambers’ economic development bills enter conference committee. Among them: Whether to allow for changes in the liquor licensing process, and whether to put new limits on how companies use noncompete clauses.
But the chambers’ two bills appear to agree that the state should help fund collaborative workspaces in struggling cities, an initiative originally floated in Governor Deval Patrick’s economic proposal that the House and Senate versions built upon. It would allow cities and property owners or managers to apply in partnership for funding to assist in launching such spaces in gateway cities. Gateway cities refer to the 26 former industrial communities across the state that have seen their economies struggle in recent years, including Brockton, Fall River, Holyoke, and Quincy.
Both the Senate and House bills would allow for a maximum of $2 million to be put toward collaborative workspaces. That represents a lower cap than Patrick’s bill had called for—$3.75 million.
The amount of funding could change as the two chambers compromise. Collaborative workspace funding is part of broader “transformative development’’ funding for gateway cities. The two sides look fairly far apart on the size of that broader investment, with the House suggesting $17 million to the Senate’s $10 million.
Collaborative workspaces, otherwise known as coworking centers, have popped up in Boston and other cities across the country. Among the most popular in Boston are WorkBar, the Cambridge Innovation Center, and WeWork—the last of which is based in New York but operates two Boston locations. They allow entrepreneurs or remote workers to rent space, either private or shared, that is much cheaper than a traditional office and doesn’t require the upkeep. Advocates for the spaces also stress the community and networking opportunities they present. A recent study showed coworking to have caught hold mightily in recent years, with the amount of spaces in the US increasing by 83 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Coworking is often most closely associated with tech startups, but speaking to Boston.com in May about the governor’s proposal, Massachusetts Creative Economy Industry Director Helena Fruscio said the state would be open to funding anything from a more traditional coworking area to shared manufacturing or kitchen space.
“It doesn’t have to be tech,’’ she said at the time. “(The goal is) the clustering of businesses in underutilized business buildings in Gateway cities.’’