Portland’s Centrl Office provides shared space for individuals and companies, meaning scrappy lone programmers work side by side with 20-person design teams. Centrl expanded to a second location at the Burnside Bridgehead last fall because of increased demand, in part due to broader changes in commercial real estate. Alex Hughes tells us why.

Is coworking a Portland phenomenon?

In bigger cities like San Francisco and New York, coworking is part of the culture. Everyone knows what it is. In Portland there are still a lot of people who are like, “Whoa, what is coworking?” They’re still grasping the concept, but it’s getting traction.

What’s good about it?

This model really greases the skids, not only for companies in town, but for out-of-towners to launch here. Some would normally wait for a larger critical mass before they would mobilize in Portland. It makes it easier for groups from the Bay Area, LA, East Coast—wherever they’re coming from. I’m a Portlander, and the city can be very inward facing. It’s great to see what people are doing in other markets as they come here.

Is it that important to have an office?

The guy from Nordic Semiconductor [which expanded here from Norway] was posting up in a coffee shop. And people wouldn’t come to work for him because, they said, “You have a Nordic Semiconductor business card. You look legit. I know you’re the real deal. But where’s your office?” It’s hard for people to jump ship from other employers and take him seriously. Now he has an office with us, it smells like coffee, there’s energy and music. Since he’s moved into Centrl, he’s employed four to six people. We like to think we’re a small part of that—making it look like he’s got a brick and mortar.

Is privacy a concern?

The obvious downside is if you’re doing pinups of, like, the latest apparel line. That’s a big segment of Portland overall—just because we’re an apparel town—but it’s becoming more and more technology-based and on your computer screens, and so it’s not a big deal. The conversational part of it is a nonissue. We have private and secure offices and phone booths.

Just in Portland, there are almost a dozen different coworking spaces.…

Coworking has gone from its own niche to it being a mainstream segment of real estate. Now there are these subsegments. All across the country, the world, you’re seeing women-only coworking spaces, you’re seeing ones with day care in them. There are ones for special industries like the Internet of Things, or ones linked to a specific fund or venture capitalist.

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