On the corner of East Buffalo and North Broadway Streets in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward sits a building with office space providing workspace for more than 200 businesses led by a diversity of professionals – from a wedding planner to a therapist and lawyers to independent contractors.
As one of Milwaukee’s premier co-working office sites, the Hudson Business Lounge has become a sort of hub in the Third Ward, uniting sectors that don’t typically interact.
“I think it gives the community and the city kind of a center point,” said Barbara DeMeulenaere, general manager of the Hudson and one of 15 full-time employees. “We’ve heard other people saying we’re kind of like the anchor.”
As an anchor, the Hudson is grounded in a mission to provide businesses a cost-efficient office space where they can grow their operations and their network through access to tools, resources and thought leaders. Like other co-working spaces across the country, the Hudson rents out temporary office space to members who decide when and how often to take advantage of its facilities.
The Hudson, named after the 1940s-era classic Hudson car, launched last October under the vision of founder and former chief executive officer William Waldren, who discovered a hole in Milwaukee’s office market for small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups.
“William’s vision was very simple,” DeMeulenaere said. “He wanted a professional place for people to be able to work, to be able to interact, to be able to collaborate and to be able to grow their businesses and to have the resources to grow their businesses.”
Waldren, who also serves as one of the Hudson’s 15 investors, initially dreamt up the Hudson when he came across two men in a Milwaukee coffee shop trying to conduct business.
“He thought that was the most absurd thing he had ever seen,” DeMeulenaere said.
Waldren could see a need for office space catering to business owners working out of their homes or trying to lift their businesses off the ground, DeMeulenaere said.
In addition to reaching out to other co-working innovators across the country, Waldren organized roundtable discussions to collect feedback from Milwaukee’s startup and entrepreneur communities and reflected on his own entrepreneurial experiences to determine how the Hudson could best accommodate potential business members.
The Hudson, which encompasses two stories and about 11,000 square feet, breaks down into nine semi-private offices, 10 smaller solo offices, seven conference rooms, a space designated for individual work stations, and an open work space that doubles as a lecture hall. The entire facility is outfitted with WiFi and includes printing and scanning capabilities as well as individual landlines and mailboxes for members who want their calls and business mail routed directly to an office.
With three tiers of membership, the Hudson customizes its services and amenities for its client base. The office also offers month-to-month contracts so clients aren’t trapped in long-term leases should they need to relocate their business or restructure their operations.
Tier one, the most basic form of membership, grants clients use of the Hudson’s open collaboration space, special rates on individual amenities and eight hours of conference room access. Tier two members are allowed to work in the office’s station area and small solo offices, can use conference rooms for 24 hours and have parking options. Tier three membership also offers parking privileges as well as access to semi-private offices and 100 hours of meeting time in conference rooms.
Phil Gerbyshak, chief connections officer of Milwaukee Social Media, runs his consulting company out of the Hudson as a tier three member and said he “pretty much lives at the Hudson.”
While Gerbyshak, who currently coordinates the Hudson’s social media accounts, was familiar with the co-working space concept from other cities he initially wasn’t sure how well it would work in Milwaukee with all the permanent office space available for lease.
But after touring the Hudson’s raw space and establishing a relationship with the management team, he didn’t hesitate to take the plunge and become the first official member.
“As we got closer and closer to launch date, more and more people got excited about it,” Gerbyshak said. “So it seemed like a great opportunity to make connections in the city because there were a lot of entrepreneurs buzzing about it.”
Along with operating Milwaukee Social Media out of the Hudson and meeting with his clients directly in the co-working space, Gerbyshak has formed relationships with other members and exchanged referrals to boost business development.
While other existing co-working spaces serve niche industries, such as information technology and startups, the Hudson’s fusion approach in serving all industries has generated unlikely friendships and innovative collaboration efforts.
“(The atmosphere) is pretty electric,” Gerbyshak said. “You can talk to anybody. It’s very open, and it’s professional yet trendy.”
Other members like Richard Edelman, a Milwaukee-area artist renowned for his sculptures, rely on the Hudson as a touchdown office to meet with clients and project partners in the city, have a home away from home office, and stay on task during free intervals between meetings.
Edelman spends work hours in both the business lounge and the adjacent Hudson Coffee & Wine Bar, a more casual space open to members, professional organizations and the public for events, meetings and individual use.
“Inevitably wherever you’re headquartered…you’re going to find yourself downtown, usually on a pretty regular basis,” Edelman said. “So one real advantage I see is that when you’re down there between meetings or for meetings or if you’re early for a meeting you can just use space there without going back to your home office.”
Time that would have otherwise been wasted is converted into productivity, Edelman said.
A number of Edelman’s artworks are showcased throughout the Hudson – including models of some of his most recognized sculptures on display in Milwaukee – to add to the aesthetics of the Hudson hub and expose area talent.
Work of local artists along with rotating member biographies on monitors in the business lounge and bar have created new outlets for the Hudson to market its members to the general public.
In building on Waldren’s co-working vision, the Hudson’s management team plans to grow its client base to a targeted 350 members, which exceeds the typical co-working membership by about 250 clients. It also hopes to use the existing Hudson as a prototype to eventually launch a workspace housing permanent offices in Milwaukee.
From there, the Hudson brand aims to grow nationally as its model gains attention from cities across the country.
“The trend in workspace of today and tomorrow is Hudson,” DeMeulenaere said. “It’s not the traditional office space anymore.”