Co-working spaces help Kansas City earn reputation as tech start-up friendly

Plexpod at Westport Commons now open

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - From a school to a co-working destination, the transformation of Westport Junior High School is complete. Instead of students, entrepreneurs and employees fill the hallways which still have lockers lining the walls. 

Plexpod spent more than $20 million to turn the classrooms into offices and open collaboration areas. Since opening in April, Plexpod is one of the world's largest co-working spaces. 

The change is one of the latest major moves helping Kansas City earn a reputation as a tech-friendly city to launch a start-up. 

Techweek is sponsoring an event in the city this week, using Plexpod to host many of its speakers and demonstrations. Only nine North American cities host a sanctioned Techweek event. 

Last month, GoBankingRates listed Kansas City as the 7th best city to start a business.

KC Source Link, a group that connects entrepreneurs with resources, reported new businesses that employ fewer than 20 people create more than 16,000 jobs in the nine-county metro area annually. 

Salaries for those new jobs typically surpass the Kansas City average salary after three years. 

Co-working spaces foster growth for start-ups. The director of Plexpod's Westport Commons location said shared spaces bring everything an entrepreneur needs to one location. 

"It provides a place of networking and collaborating and sheer resources. So if someone is coming in and they need a designer or need legal advice, it's all under one roof," explained Stephanie Medina. 

She said renting an office in a space like Plexpod takes some of the overhead expenses off the plate of a business that's just beginning. 

At the Westport Commons location, businesses range from having one employee to 37. An Australian safety inspection company opened its North American headquarters at Plexpod. 

Other members include the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and the Mozilla Foundation, which works to incorporate high-speed internet into education. 

"For us the biggest benefit is not only are we in this fancy, historic building, but we can feed off energy and ideas that other people may have," pointed out Jenn Beard with Mozilla. 

While the Jazz Orchestra's director admits her group isn't the most tech focused, Dorene Shipley said she fits right in. 

"It's fun to be a part of something that's really happening, new in Kansas City," she said. 

Plexpod has another location in Lenexa. It plans on opening a third co-working space in downtown Kansas City. 

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