On June 6th our founder, Anne Kirby, had an opportunity to speak in front of The House Small Business Committee on the gig economy, the trends and how coworking places a role.

Anne sustained a serious injury the day before presenting, see if you can see her crutches in the background. Luckily she still got to testify, that story will be told at a later date. For now, enjoy her testimony below or watch the video.

SHORT TESTIMONY BELOW | JUNE 6th 2018 | Washington, D.C.
DOWNLOAD FULL STATEMENT HERE (13 Pages, PDF)

Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Velazquez, and members of the full committee: Thank you for inviting me today and for giving me the opportunity to testify on coworking and its role in what is known as the gig, or freelance, economy.

My name is Anne Kirby, and I’m the founder of The Candy Factory, a coworking space in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Coworking spaces are about building community. Per the coworking wiki, “the coworking concept is simple: independent professionals and those with workplace flexibility work better together than they do alone.”

According to the 2017 Global coworking survey, by industry magazine Deskmag, an estimated 1.7 million people will be working in approximately 19,000 coworking spaces globally by the end of 2018. 29% of all spaces opened just this past year, and nationally, this growth is in step with the rise of the gig economy.

Coworking is appealing for many reasons.

Mostly located in urban centers where commercial rates are high, flexible memberships mean less risk allowing members to use space as needed, avoiding the high cost of long-term leases. Space operators manage all aspects of the facility, saving members valuable time and money.

The gig economy has also helped drive the tech startup culture. With the emergence of open source, skill sharing, online collaborative tools, and social networks, we are connecting in ways we could never have imagined.

We are not just working; we are building relationships.

Freelancing in America: 2017, commissioned by Upwork and the Freelancer Union estimates that 57.3 million Americans or 36% of the U.S. workforce are freelancing. This report considered one of the most extensive studies on the topic has predicted that the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2027. Millennials, hold first place with 47% freelancing.

These numbers speak volumes. We are facing new challenges, how and where we work is changing, as are the skills we need to be successful. Coworking spaces play a crucial role in this ever-evolving ecosystem providing not only an escape from isolation but also access to resources.

I have been an active member of the freelancer economy for over eighteen years and spent the last eleven years as a community builder. During that time, I have learned that success in the gig economy involves thinking collaboratively while seeking out low cost or no cost resources.

After working from home for a few years, I realized I was craving social interaction with my peers, I immersed myself in the emerging coworking movement and founded The Candy Factory in 2010.

Over the past eight years, The Candy Factory has grown, spanning across two locations and housing a community of close to 150 members with room to grow. Being the first coworking space in Central Pennsylvania, our diverse membership is made up of freelancers, remote workers, small business owners, startups, non-profits, and students.  

Thanks to coworking, small businesses are thriving. Take, for example, Candy Factory member, Doug Kaufmann, a young certified accountant who formed Kaufmann CPA after leaving his corporate job in 2014. Since then he has been incubating his business in our space and has become a go-to resource for many of us, including myself.

Partnerships with SCORE, SBA, Ben Franklin Technology, and others, help our members stay competitive, and coworking spaces become a natural client pipeline for resource providers.  SCORE has recognized this benefit and is partnering with spaces throughout the country. Personally, SCORE and my mentor Jerry Glenn have played an essential role in my business development, offering third-party perspective, HR expertise, and referrals.

Along with access to affordable real estate, other challenges range from healthcare to education.

We are helping to address rising health care costs through a membership-based primary care service called Rock Medical. This service does not replace health insurance but instead gives members access to health care for a low monthly fee.

Education is also critical to maintaining a prosperous gig economy. For example, the Pittsburgh based co-op Work Hard, started Academy Pittsburgh, a 12-week code boot camp that gives their students real work experience in popular coding languages.

We understand that it is essential to work with our lawmakers on policy, from simplifying the tax process for solo entrepreneurs, and 1099 laws to infrastructure. Addressing these issues will allow us to remain competitive in the global market.

Coworking spaces are here to help empower, connect, educate and support the needs of the evolving workforce and we look forward to partnering with our government to help enact change and support policy that will have a positive economic impact on the gig economy and those associated with it.

Thank you again for your support and for allowing me to testify.