August 20, 2018

A surprising player joins Nashville’s crowded field of co-working spaces

The newest co-working hub in Nashville offers Pac-Man and Skee-Ball, a Starbucks coffee machine in a cafeteria that never closes, an expansive gym with locker rooms and views of the state Capitol.

You’ll find similar features in the 302,000 square feet of co-working space that seven brands have opened or announced in the region since the start of 2017. The roster includes WeWork Cos. Inc., valued by its global investors at $20 billion. Co-working companies from Amsterdam, Chicago and Brooklyn have opened one or two outposts locally, chasing their slice of the region’s economic growth.

What makes the newest space different is its creator. LifeWay Christian Resources, a nearly 130-year-old organization that ranks among downtown’s largest private employers, has turned 15,000 square feet of its new downtown headquarters into shared offices dubbed FaithWorks.

Officials at the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention see the venture as a business they hope to replicate in other locations. For workers seeking this kind of space, LifeWay is an unexpected new option for them to consider. LifeWay touts its space as competitively priced. Many of its competitors boast even more amenities that would influence rental rates, from local beer and custom art to networking sessions and members-only events.

LifeWay president and CEO Thom Rainer said the idea evolved out of his interest in the “gig economy,” or the rise of independent contractors and freelancers (also commonly thought of as a “side hustle,” such as driving for Uber or Lyft or doing one-off jobs via TaskRabbit). LifeWay’s move last fall to a new downtown headquarters created the chance for Rainer to act, spurred in part by feedback from a LifeWay contract employee who works in Kansas City.

“I am an entrepreneur at heart, even more than a corporate leader. The co-working economy is a natural response to the gig economy,” Rainer said in an email interview. “We will prototype FaithWorks in our downtown headquarters, but I can see our faith-based co-working model expanding well beyond the prototype. It has the potential to be a great ministry and a great business model.”

LifeWay offers four tiers of membership, from a “drop-in desk” for $200 a month to a dedicated private office for several employees, for $450 a month. For a fee, parking is available in the building’s secured parking garage.

“We’re not going to price-gouge [customers],” said Amy Thompson, LifeWay’s director of corporate relations.

FaithWorks is aimed at attracting Christian entrepreneurs, freelancers, nonprofits and small businesses. One benefit of membership is access to the worship services LifeWay hosts on-site for the 1,000 employees based out of its headquarters.

Believing in Christ is by no means a requirement to rent space, Thompson said. On a tour, FaithWorks looked similar to any other modern professional office space, complete with WiFi and videoconference capabilities. The only difference I saw was the Scripture that adorns part of a wall or the exterior of an office window.

“It’s definitely open to anyone. We would hope anyone who shares LifeWay’s values would consider FaithWorks as their co-working space,” Thompson said.

LifeWay began allowing its employees to work remotely a few years ago. Its “work from anywhere” program is so popular that it freed space for FaithWorks to take up half of the fifth floor in LifeWay’s 277,000-square-foot headquarters.

Thompson and Carol Pipes, a LifeWay spokeswoman, declined to share any projections LifeWay may have about how many members might sign up or how much revenue they’ll bring in.

“We’re really dipping our toe in the water here,” Pipes said. “We are hopeful. We feel like we have a niche in this market. We definitely think it will be a growing business for us.”

If you go: LifeWay is hosting an open house for FaithWorks on Sept. 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The building is 1 LifeWay Plaza, located at the corner of that street and 11th Avenue North.

Originally published in the Nashville Business Journal

By Adam Sichko