One in five Americans lives in rural communities. In Iowa, many of those communities are struggling to grow their economy and retain talented people who are moving to bigger cities and emerging markets for job opportunities. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, there was a shift beginning with companies offering remote work opportunities, which has provided rural communities with a unique opportunity. Once the pandemic hit, that opportunity increased exponentially.
According to a recent HP article, 33% of jobholders in the United States were always remote and an additional 25% were occasionally remote. A PwC survey found that more than half of all office workers —55%— would like to work remotely three days a week or more. In addition, fewer than one in five employers want to return to the office as it was before. This flexibility in work has allowed a significant migration of people from big, expensive cities to smaller, rural communities where the cost of living is lower and access to outdoor spaces is more prevalent.
In addition to this mass migration of remote workers, the Gig Economy is thriving and broadband is expanding to more rural communities, creating new opportunities to develop ideas and launch companies. Despite the large number of people living in rural areas, coworking spaces and robust small business and entrepreneur support services are hard to find in these small communities.
The Innovation Lab is aiming to change this by creating a network of rural coworking spaces throughout eastern Iowa, all supported and connected by a collection of shared programs and services. Currently, there are Innovation Lab locations in Dubuque, Cascade, and Independence. In the coming year, we will open new locations in Dyersville, Monticello, and Dodgeville, Wisc.
So why do these make sense? These Innovation Labs bring new energy to Main Streets in each community and help strengthen entrepreneurship and economic impact throughout the entire region. They provide a place for remote workers to land when they look to relocate to a rural community, or for entrepreneurs and small businesses to thrive.
And we know it works. In Cascade, we have four coworkers, all with a different story. Jared is from Cascade but lives in Texas. His ability to work remotely for his company allowed him to come back to Cascade for the summer to visit family. The Innovation Lab provides him with a dedicated spot to work every day. The Chamber of Commerce works out of the space and there are two entrepreneurs who utilize the Innovation Lab to work out of and as a spot to meet their clients. In Independence, we also have three coworkers. Foster, a medical school student, is utilizing the Innovation Lab to study over the summer months. The Chamber of Commerce also works out of this Lab and there is one remote worker.
When we looked at developing this rural network, local partners all agreed that:
There are entrepreneurs and remote workers living in rural Iowa communities
These individuals would benefit from opportunities to connect with peers and programming
We think our Innovation Labs fill an important need in these communities. We are not only providing an inspiring place to work, but also access to business support services like one-on-one coaching. As we get ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Independence and Cascade Lab openings, we are excited to be opening three more locations to serve entrepreneurs and small businesses in new communities.
To learn more about how you can get involved in our new Labs in Monticello, Dyersville, and Dodgeville, reach out to Eric at Eric@innovationlab.us.