It came to Terry Wallace as an epiphany. On a Sunday about two years ago at his Palmer Township home, Wallace’s daughter Michaella posed a question before his weekly commute to New York City, where he kept an apartment for a job at WeWork.
“Are you going home tonight?” she asked.
Wallace, thinking he was home, realized it was time for a change, after two decades of commuting to New York. So he left WeWork and decided to start his own business — near home, in the Lehigh Valley.
“It was just obvious to me: What did I need for 20 years?” Wallace said. “I needed a world-class office space without a commute that I could do great things from.”
He’s betting others need one, too.
Wallace is president of Venture X Lehigh Valley, a membership-based flexible workspace that opened Sept. 22 at Gateway at Greenway Park, at Third and New streets in south Bethlehem. The 13,000-square-foot operation spans two floors, connected by a floating staircase indicative of the space’s industrial loft design incorporating stone, steel, wood and glass. Venture X offers common areas, conference rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and private phone booths, as well as 40 dedicated office spaces.
While launching the operation during a pandemic was admittedly tricky and led to several technical changes, such as touchless entry and foot-pedaled water fountains, Venture X is attracting members and already has filled several offices with businesses involved in the technology, communications, marketing, finance and insurance industries. What Wallace is more excited about is that members have started to collaborate with one another — while masked and socially distanced, of course.
“We’re focusing on making this a business beehive,” Wallace said. “Our focus is on business integration and amplification.”
The opening comes amid a pandemic that is prompting change in office real estate. Many believe coworking operations, such as Venture X, Convene or WeWork, will play a significant role in future workplaces, offering flexibility that companies will increasingly covet moving forward.
It’s one reason why Wallace is planning to expand Venture X in the Lehigh Valley. He said he already has plans underway for one location each in Allentown and Easton. Bethlehem is the first Pennsylvania location for Venture X, a franchise brand quickly growing across the country and internationally.
Wallace, who led global human resources operations at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and then at rapid growth startup WeWork, said companies for years have been examining ways to reduce real estate costs while becoming more agile, efficient and thoughtful in how they use resources and engage employees. The coronavirus, which forced offices to shut down, provided the catalyst.
“Companies have been working on this for a long time, and this has accelerated it,” Wallace said. “Companies that weren’t thinking about this are — it’s become business critical.”
The work-from-home trend is expected to outlast the pandemic, and will force companies at least to offer flexible options. That flexibility, in turn, has benefits for employers who can potentially lower real estate costs while widening their talent pools beyond geographic borders.
While activity within the high-growth flexible office space market has slowed during the pandemic, coworking operations such as Venture X are expected to play an important role in the office of the future, according to a survey of 126 real estate executives conducted this year by commercial real estate services firm CBRE.
In the survey, 73% said flexible office space will be part of their long-term real estate strategy, with many companies thinking flex space will play an even greater role moving forward.
“Occupiers are still considering flexible office space as a stopgap to delays in new construction or as an alternative to at-home work,” CBRE’s report said. “No capital commitment and no risk of being stuck with unneeded space is a compelling combination when the future is even more uncertain than usual.”
That flexibility is a crucial part of Wallace’s pitch. For example, Venture X has membership plans as short as six months, as opposed to real estate leases that could run five to 10 years. For members, gourmet coffee, printing and Wi-Fi are included, and the front desk is staffed by Venture X Community Director Jessica Santoro. Members never see a utility bill.
That convenience is what lured Derrick and Warren Clark, owners of Clark Home Group, to take an office at Venture X at a time when their growing business needed a home base.
“You’ve got all the necessities you need in an office,” Derrick Clark said.
“Terry has gone out of his way to make it state-of-the-art and user-friendly,” Warren Clark added.
The Clarks also worked with Wallace to outfit Venture X with furniture from their lineup of small business retailers. Clark Home Group is further partnering with Venture X by providing new members with office design services, helping office-users to lay out and personalize their spaces.
Just a few weeks in at Venture X, the Clarks said they’ve been approached by other members looking to collaborate and work on larger projects.
Wallace sees value in that kind of in-person connection. While working at home works for some, he believes most prefer the benefits of convening. In Bethlehem, and the planned locations in Allentown and Easton, Wallace thinks Venture X will attract a variety of members, from the bread-and-butter community businesses such as accountants, lawyers and real estate agents, to salespeople for national companies scattered across the region.
“With those three strategic locations, I very much look forward to saying: If you live in the Lehigh Valley, you’re no more than 15 minutes from your network of office space, amenities and services that you can use in a very agile way to benefit your business,” Wallace said.
And for Wallace, who grew up in a military family, moving every other year through high school, and later spent almost 20 years commuting into New York City, he’s happy his job has finally come home.
Morning Call reporter Jon Harris can be reached at 610-820-6779 or at [email protected]
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