WeWork attracts new businesses, suburbanites downtown

International companies to local startups have found a home away from home in Detroit’s new co-working space

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Detroit — WeWork tries to make Monday mornings a little less miserable for the worker bees who rent space in this downtown “co-working” hive.

On a recent Monday, a tower of bagels welcomed members of the workspace. The Monday before, there were free waffles to go with the never-ending supply of coffee, tea and — if one really wanted it at 10 a.m. — beer.

Sidney Coleman, left, chats with friend Tendo Lukwago. Coleman’s Ann Arbor-based event management company is considering a membership in the Detroit branch of WeWork, which offers workspace in two buildings on Woodward.

“It’s something to bring people together in the morning to start your day off right,” says Kyle Steiner, WeWork Detroit’s community manager, who organizes 3.13-mile runs on Fridays and strives to make the office “as homey as it can be” — minus the need to sweep or do dishes.

The co-working company, known for innovative shared workspace for employees of various companies, founded in New York City in 2010, has more than 200 offices and 130,000 members worldwide. In March, the Detroit branch opened on the corner of Woodward and Clifford in an Albert Kahn building that had sat vacant for 20-plus years.

The 50 hot desk, or open seating spaces, as well as one- and two-person private offices sold out before opening, and six months later, the seven floors are near full occupancy with more than 500 members representing 100 companies. A second location, three blocks away on Woodward, is also growing rapidly.

WeWork senior sales lead John Marcicky, 30, said the company has an economic impact on the city, mainly by increasing the number of downtown workers coming from the suburbs and nationwide.

“We have folks who haven’t worked in Detroit in 20-30 years and are now coming back. We have folks who are working on the east coast and west coast that have been thinking of having a presence in Detroit,” he said. “We also have some lifelong Detroiters, small business owners in the neighborhoods, who always have been itching to have the opportunity to be downtown.”

Eight Icon Incar co-workers who moved into an office this particular Monday were previously in Dearborn.

“It’s a huge improvement,” said Clinton Township resident Anne Haara, a senior 3-D and motion designer for the automotive user experience design consultancy based in Germany. “They seem to provide for our needs really well. Internet access is much better. The desk space is nice — it’s not like a horrible cubicle farm.”

WeWork is among a number of co-working spaces in Detroit that are popular for that exact reason. Local artists decorate the walls as opposed to stock art from box retailers. The gathering areas have a café feel, with couches and soft jams playing, as opposed to crammed, white-walled break rooms.

Amanda Lewan, co-founder of Bamboo Detroit on Washington, the first co-working space downtown, said people are also attracted to co-working spaces because they’re more affordable than leasing and furnishing office space. They also come with printing, Wi-Fi and kitchen space.

“Typically, a landlord would want you to have a five-year lease, put a large deposit down and pay for all of your utilities on top of that,” Lewan said. “Bamboo provides the space, the furniture and all the amenities for a more affordable price.”

While WeWork has opened branches worldwide — catering to what people want out of a workspace — Megan Dodds, WeWork director of community for the Midwest, said Detroit’s “history of innovation and ingenuity” is why the company came here.

“WeWork is eager to work closely with startups, business, nonprofits and civic leaders to further establish Detroit as a thriving community for creators, entrepreneurs, and changemakers,” Dodds said. “The city is growing quickly, and we plan to grow with it.”

Pet-friendly workplace

Wesley Long attempted to stop his co-worker from jumping on the counter and knocking over his WeWork coffee mug labeled, “Always Do What You Love.”

His co-worker, Rupert, a 1.5-year-old English Setter-husky mix, ignored the commands to “get down!”

“He’s very excitable,” Long apologized. “I’m trying to bring him in slowly, so he’s not jumping all over people like he is today.”

Since it’s a pet-friendly workplace, Rupert has his own bed where Long’s former human coworker once sat.

Long, a 26-year-old senior associate for the real estate firm Porritt Group, said his Chicago-based company allows him to work remotely, and working here is better than at home in Ferndale.

“There’s a lot more distractions at home,” said Long, adding the encounters with WeWork members are a bonus. “You’re sitting next to these people who are running companies, and it’s just inspiring. It motivates you to work hard.”

The diversity of companies ranging from the Discovery Channel and Pinterest, to local nonprofits such as the Empowerment Plan, is partly why Ryan Landau chose to base his startup in WeWork.

Re:purpose, a job recruiting platform that matches tech companies with tech professionals in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, was the first startup to launch out of WeWork Detroit in March.

“We were sitting in that booth over there,” said Landau, pointing to a booth against a mural by Detroit artist Ellen Rutt.

Working from a hot desk, the 28-year-old who lives downtown said he’s found customers just grabbing a glass of flavored water from the kitchen.

“There’s businesses in here that are quickly growing and are looking for talent,” he said. “There’s a ton of freelancers, people that WeWork calls ‘creators,’ that are here looking to join companies, too. From a talent and company perspective, it’s been a great fit.”

‘Up and coming city’

A few chairs down at the same wooden table, Allison Goodman typed on her laptop. The 30-year-old is a product manager for the sports team management app, TeamSnap, based in Boulder, Colorado. She lives in San Francisco but frequently travels to Detroit to visit friends and family.

“It’s an up and coming city,” said Goodman, explaining that since her membership allows her to work from the Detroit office, she’s entertained the idea of moving here. “It’s a place to kind of start from zero, and I don’t know, there’s something exciting about it.”

One perk of WeWork is that members have access to offices in 49 cities. All they have to do is reserve a space on the app.

The monthly memberships, which grant 24/7 access, start at $220 for a hot desk and $400 for a private office in Detroit.

The model is cost-effective for companies that want space downtown, but can’t afford to be locked into long-term leases or pay for renovations, said Marcicky, a native Detroiter who previously worked for Quicken Loans.

While there are other Detroit co-working spaces, such as Bamboo Detroit, Green Garage and a new space that opened last month for women, called Femology, Marcicky said WeWork’s globalness is a gamechanger for enticing businesses and retaining Michigan natives.

“Being able to do what other big cities are doing — attracting companies which are then keeping college grads here,” he said, “that’s so powerful.”

After the Icon Incar team finished unpacking and settling in that Monday, they headed to the 8th floor at 4:30 p.m. to take advantage of the beer tap.

“If you’re happy at work, you’re going to be more creative and you’ll do better work. So I think that’s something they focus on here, which I appreciate,” said senior designer Adam Naglich of Southfield, taking a swig of his beer.


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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg