As Founder & President of The Space On Main, I gave testimony on-site today in support of coworking, makerspaces, broadband, and entrepreneurship at a Vermont Senate Committee On Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs hearing on Rural Economic Development & Innovation. My testimony and full hearing video are below (Matt Dunne starts off the hearing at 1:00:00).

My name is Monique Priestley. I grew up directly across the river in Piermont, NH and then moved to Bradford during high school. I attended UVM and Northern VT University (Lyndon) for my undergraduate degrees and left for 15 months to get a Master of Communication in Digital Media at the University of Washington in Seattle. While in grad school, I worked for a Seattle software company that I continue to work full-time for, remotely, 9 years later. I continue to commute back and forth every few months to catch up with coworkers and to get a dose of an urban environment.
I serve on a number of local, municipal, and state boards including everything from our local health care center, to planning commission, to Chamber of Commerce, to the Vermont Council on Rural Development. This space was a retirement goal of mine, but at 30, our town was losing key businesses and every local meeting was filled with a palpable mixture of depression and desperation – wondering how to attract businesses, professionals, and young people.

You have heard and are going to continue hearing of the need for better access to broadband, a need to push technical education, and a need for better access to affordable and workforce housing. These are critical problems that need to be solved. We think an equally important problem is a lost sense of connection and community. A lack of communication and collaboration. A lost sense of civic responsibility. And a lack of sharing skills and resources. And we believe that coworking and makerspaces can address these problems head on.

Coworking and makerspaces facilitate efficient, affordable, and convenient sharing of resources. The remote worker, the contractor, the freelancer, the entrepreneur, the solopreneur, the working parent with a side-hustle, the traveling consultant. These individuals are not required to have an office space. In rural Vermont, it does not make sense to drop hundreds of dollars a month to drive to a location where they are most likely still going to be working in isolation. But $100/month to work in a shared, professional space where they can meet clients, have access to fast Internet, and have facilitated access to a network of people who can grow their businesses, their skills, the social circle, and their awareness of others in their community? That is game changing. In our handout, you will see that people joined The Space On Main for access to faster Internet access, but more importantly, they joined just to be around other people. They want to be engaged. They want to grow with, learn from, and share with others.

The Space On Main has been open for less than 4 months and already, our members have blown us away. They will tell you that this space saved their lives, their relationships, or their businesses. One member reported invoicing for more earnings in his first month than he has ever invoiced in his career. That same member shared that something as simple as access to a table and whiteboard made his product more professional. And that access to video equipment could enable him to evolve his real-time global reach to automated global reach that would allow him to help more people, make more money, hire staff, and require him to partner with other members to make up for his weaker areas such as marketing. Every single one of our members and many members of the broader community wants to start, evolve, or scale a business, but they need support and a network to do so. And that is what we provide, but it is going to be a struggle to purchase required equipment, make overhead, offer programming, and try to build in salary for a paid employee to manage things.

There are a few keys areas where we believe the state can make huge impact:

1. A more expansive broadband network, which in turn would lower costs. When we priced out fiber a year ago, it was going to be $2200/month, then $1100/month, and is currently $375/month for 50/50 (half of what it should be). After the lease, it is our greatest monthly expense.

2. A remote worker program that markets and matches people with available spaces. Even if you manage to convince a remote worker to come to Vermont and throw a few thousand dollars at them, you are not giving them a community to engage with. They are going to be isolated, in a new environment, with no real investment or connection to Vermont. They are going to feel the disconnection from the professional network they had in the city. Instead, buy them a year at a coworking space. Give that coworking space money to survive and to invest in programming that will allow them to offer professional development and networking opportunities to that worker.

3. Financially support or incentivize business and entrepreurial programming. We recently attended a facilitator training for a business accelerator training at LaunchVT. Ideally, The Space On Main would offer this 9 week program 3 times throughout the year. Each cohort can accommodate up to 16 people. From each, if 4 businesses result and even one stays and hires 10 people, that is 30 new jobs a year. We already have a full waiting list for the first cohort. Once that’s in place, We will expand similar programming to local tech center students. And from there, we will offer in-depth training in coding, accounting, business development, scaling, and more.

And as an additional note after receiving the proposed legislation list, absolutely expand the Downtown program. Receiving state tax credits was a make-or-break moment for this renovation project.

(Matt Dunne starts speaking approximately 1:00:00 in.)

Photo credit for featured image: Matt Dunne

Lawmakers explore potential of co-working spaces for rural development: Senate committee hears testimony on bolstering rural growth around shared work spaces Full article and video reported by Ross Ketschke on MyNBC5 6:25 PM EST Feb 19, 2019: https://www.mynbc5.com/article/lawmakers-explore-potential-of-co-working-spaces-for-rural-development/26416856

BRADFORD, Vt. — Vermont lawmakers are exploring the potential for using co-work spaces as spark plugs for economic development in rural communities.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs hosted a hearing with co-work and makers space leaders from around the state in Bradford on Tuesday.

Senators heard testimony from local business leaders, entrepreneurs and directors of communal work spaces on their potential economic impact and ways the state could support growth they can potentially kick-start.

“It’s a place for people who are just moving to towns to know they have a community they can step into,” said Monique Priestley, founder of Bradford’s The Space on Main where the hearing was hosted.

Priestley’s co-working space opened its doors last fall and allows artists and entrepreneurs to rent out work space by the day or month.

The Space on Main, like other co-working or makers spaces, offers an array of tools for startups and artists including internet access and, in some cases, manufacturing equipment for designing product prototypes.

Priestley said the environment of co-working facilities is highly attractive to new business ventures looking to operate in collaborative spaces with other entrepreneurs.

“People see each other and overhear conversations and that’s sparking ideas or ways for them to collaborate with other people,” she said.

Director of the Center on Rural Innovation Matt Dunne said adapting the co-working space models for rural communities in Vermont would need some tweaking from their for-profit focused templates in startup hubs like Boston.

“It takes grassroots activities, frequently in a non-profit model but not necessarily. And it certainly takes support from the community and the state to make sure they succeed,” he said.

Dunne pointed to the lack of access to high-speed fiber optic internet access as an area the state could support and invest in to help attract new businesses to co-working spaces in Vermont.

The Center on Rural Innovation’s pilot campus in Springfield has taken advantage of the town’s unique access to high-speed fiber-optic connection.

However, not all communities have the infrastructure to support fiber connection, and Priestley said it is rarely affordable in places it is available.

She said her second largest expense behind monthly rent is paying for broadband.

“Broadband is the electricity of our time,” Dunne said.

Co-chair of the committee, Sen. Alison Clarkson (D) echoed their call for improved internet access in rural communities.

“We need to have the best high-speed in every downtown,” she said. “We also need it to every premise; to every home, to every business.”

Others who testified emphasized the need to support affordable-housing initiatives that bolster the communities surrounding co-working spaces.

Legislatures in Montpelier are reviewing multiple housing proposals this session, including a multi-million dollar housing revenue bond and housing rehabilitation incentive program.

WEBVTT MODEL FOR SUCCESS. . MATT DUNNE, DIRECTOR OF CENTER OF RURAL INNOVATION “WE NEED TO BE PROACTIVE ABOUT IT AND MAKE SURE THAT WE’RE IN A PLACE WHERE NEW BUSINESSES CAN START BECAUSE ENTRAPANUERS OF TODAY ARE THE EMPLOYERS OF TOMORROW.” BUSINESS LEADERS FROM ACROSS VERMONT – MEETING WITH LAWMAKERS TO DISCUSS THE POTENTIAL OF CO-WORKING SPACES TO ACT AS A SPARK PLUG FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT. MONIQUE PRIESTLEY, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF SPACE ON MAIN “IT’S A PLACE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST MOVING INTO TOWNS TO KNOW THEY HAVE A COMMUNITY TO STEP INTO.” MONIQUE PRIESTLEY IS THE FOUNER OF THE SPACE ON MAIN… ONE OF DOZENS OF COMMUNAL WORK FACILITIES THROUGHOUT THE STATE THAT SHE SAYS HELPS FOSTER ENTRIPINUERHSI P BY BRINGING NEW BUSINESS VENTURES TOGETHER UNDER THE SAME ROOF. MONIQUE PRIESTLEY, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF SPACE ON MAIN “PEOPLE SEE EADCHOTHER AND HEARING COVERSATIONS AND THAT’S SPARKING IDEAS OR WAYS FOR THEM TO ENGAGE WITH OTHER PEOPLE. THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, HOUSING AND GENRAL AFFARS HEARD TESTAMONY ON THE COLLABORATIVE SPACES HAVE BEEN POPULAR IN START-UP HUBS LIKE BOSTON AND NEW YORK… AND DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER OF RURAL INNOVATION MATT DUNNE OF RURAL INNOVATION MATT DUNNE SAYS USING THEM TO JUMP START DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENTS IN VERMONT WILL TAKE A UNIQUE TOUCH. MATT DUNNE, DIRECTOR OF CENTER OF RURAL INNOVATION “IT TAKES GRASS- ROOTS ACTIVITIES, FREQUENTLY IN A NON-PROFIT MODEL BUT NOT ALWAYS NESSICARILY, AND SUPPORT FROM THE STATE AND THE COMMUNITY TO MAKE SURE THEY SUCCEED.” ONE KEY AREA HE POINTS TO FOR STATE ASSISTANCE IS SUPPORTING EFFORTS TO EXPAND HIGH- SPEED INTERNET. MATT DUNNE, DIRECTOR OF CENTER OF RURAL INNOVATION “BROADBAND IS THE ELECTRICITY OF OUR TIME. IT IS A NESSICARY PART TO BE ABLE TO PARTISCIPATE IN ECONOMIES ALL OVER THE GLOBE.” SEN. ALISON CLARKSON WINDSOR, VICE CHAIR OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPEMTN, HOUSING, GENERAL AFFAIRS “WE NEED TO HAVE THE BEST HIGH- SPEED IN EVERY DOWNTOWN AND WE ALSO NEED IT IN EVERY PREMISE, IN EVERY HOME IN EVERY BUSINESS.” OTHER WHO TESTIFIED URGED THE COMMITTEE TO SUPPORT HOUSING INCENTIVES AND GRANT PROGRAMS TO HELP BOLSTER COMMUNITY GROWTH AROUND CO- WORKING SPACES. IN BRADFORD, ROSS KETSCHKE NBC 5 NEWS.

Several people have asked for a copy of the speech that I gave when receiving this year’s Cohase Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award. Here it is, with love – and without my rushed reading:

I want to share appreciation for everyone fighting all of the million little uphill battles. In their personal lives. Professional lives. And civically-engaged lives. Please don’t forget to share your stories. The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned over the course of the last year is that everything we are and everything we do is completely intertwined. And I think that a majority of people don’t reflect on that nearly enough. Many aren’t remotely aware of the world around them. How are we supposed to solve global issues if we don’t even realize the issues our neighbors are facing? Or sometimes, realize the issues affecting us internally?

I want to take a minute to share appreciation for everyone in the room who spends their evenings in meetings and their weekends volunteering, especially when they’re sometimes the only people that show up. We’ve all been in too many meetings to count where the questions on the table are, “Are we doing any good?” “Should we keep meeting?” “How do we get people to engage?” I heard this great quote at the Women’s March rally in Montpelier this past weekend. To paraphrase, “It’s important to be an activist, but the real work is in those 10,000 meetings for social change. That’s where the important stuff happens.” Thank you for going to the meetings.

I want to share appreciation for everyone who takes the time to listen to people. Who shares coffee with a kid with a business idea or a parent who is struggling. Who is never too busy to send that email introduction that can transform lives – even the ones that can’t. Who takes the time to review an application. Who shares their perspective willingly, and respectfully.

I personally believe that each of us has a responsibility to contribute everything we can to bettering society. Thank you for showing up, for doing the work, and for changing lives.

Thank you for changing my life. There are a lot of people in this room that have shared their time, energy, support, and story with me. You have written the emails and listened. You have opened doors for me. You have challenged my point of view and helped me grow. You have provided cheers. And hugs. Thank you for keeping me going. I promise to pay it forward.

The Space On Main was founded as a nonprofit in 2017 and opened yesterday in hopes that it could promote a greater sense of community and connection for people living and working in the Cohase Region (Northern Upper Valley) of Vermont and New Hampshire. Here is my speech from the ribbon cutting ceremony:

For those of you who thought you should show up, but still don’t understand what the heck this is – thank you for being open and curious. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Space On Main is a nonprofit center for people to create. To Experiment. To share their passions. To learn. To have fun! To enjoy work again. And most importantly, to connect to the amazing people that are just outside of their current circle.

There’s a lot of suck going on right now. If all you experience, every day is your daily routine piled with whatever depressing information major media dumps on you, you’re going to feel it. People are losing their sense of community and their ability to connect with it. It’s in that community that you experience the hope, beauty, and energy of being part of a bigger thing. Of humanity. Of being alive.

And that’s the true goal of The Space. To facilitate community connections. To give you a spot to teach that skill that you’ve always wanted to share. To give you an outlet to display your talents. To learn from your neighbor. To get out of your PJs, off of your couch, and to work next to those other 100 people who are telecommuting for jobs elsewhere around the world. To share coffee. And Wifi.

Every person here today has had a hand in making this happen. And I can’t thank you enough. When Hill’s and Perry’s went out of business, the town felt this hard. Every meeting I went to was covered in a sadness that I and others really weren’t sure we’d recover from. I personally started thinking that I should move back to Seattle where my full-time office is located. I had shared the dream of a community-focused building with most of my closest friends and mentors for years, but it was usually tossed up as a pipe dream. I myself considered it a retirement dream. Then at a Bradford Business Association social, Marvin told me it was time to share it with Angela. I did. Right then. Almost exactly two years later, here we are.

Because of each of you. Some of you played particularly key roles, which I would like to highlight here today. The first two couldn’t be here today as they passed within this last year.

Carol Priestley. Who volunteered tirelessly and always brought us along. To church, school, library reading programs, Memorial Day parades, and every other thing that she could coordinate or help with. She taught me the value of giving back, even when you can barely afford to stay afloat. And she taught the love and commitment that comes from the sense of belonging to your community. The Village of Piermont raised me, because everyone was always chipping in to be a part of something bigger than themselves (and taking care of me in so many ways).

Hellen Darion. Who passed on her 103rd birthday. She was spunky, critical, and found wonderment in every aspect of life. I got to know Hellen by giving her computer lessons, which eventually turned into being her Google-searching partner. Over the course of 8 years, we looked up everything. We’d often take times just to talk and reflect over whatever came to mind. Hellen’s constant question was, “Do you feel like you’re doing the most you can do?” I’d often reply, “I want to do something bigger, but I don’t know how yet.” And then she’d tell me she wanted to kick me and to figure it out. She drove me.

Nancy Jones. You all tease the heck out of me for being on so many boards. You can thank Nancy for that. My entry ask was Bradford Conservation Commission. 9 years ago. She asked me to serve. She gave me that first sense of being a part of serving something on behalf of myself. She took me to countless association annual meetings and dinners and I was always happy to go. I didn’t really understand how powerful that was until just recently. She is a mentor, a friend, and a powerful woman role-model.

Marvin Harrison. He’s responsible for me being on another handful of boards. He has a way of telling people to ask me to serve, and then tells me I’m doing too much. He’s my go-to. The one I email way too many times a day to ask how to approach situations and people. The most respected person in any room. The wise-cracker. A friend and mentor. I’m going to steal his words for a minute – “My hero”.

Donna Williams. Who’s been a mom to me since high school. My best friend. She poses hard questions and inspires me. She keeps me grounded, supports me, and even when I have crazy ideas, she’ll do things like provide the IRS application fee for a nonprofit startup.

Ryan Lockwood. My partner in life, love, laughter. You should probably all give him a hug. He’s the one who laughs when I run around the house bouncing after an exciting meeting. He’s the one who comforts me when I’m so frustrated in the world that I can’t do anything except cry. He’s the one who encourages me when I’m doubting myself the most. Who does things like stay at The Space working all day and night to get it ready without once saying he’d rather be anywhere else.

Vin and Angela Wendell. They probably thought they were crazy 1000 times throughout this. I thought they were crazy. I appreciate everything they’ve done, but more importantly, I respect them so much. I know they want this just as much as I do. I can’t even begin to express what this means to me and to the community – once they understand what this is.

My board members. A team of my closest friends from both coasts. But not just close friends. The most intelligent people I know who would have my back in life and business. But also a team of my most trusted and respected friends who I knew would keep me in check, call me out, and make me stop to think things through.

And now everyone else. The hundreds of people who have provided an ear. Encouragement. Excitement. Their life stories in a coffee shop or at their dining tables. Who let me in and shared their passions. Who shared their frustrations. And their dreams. And their address book. And their monetary support. Holy crap you guys. This whole thing has blown me away, inspired me, challenged me, taught me, and given me hope.

We made a thing together. And I’ll never be able to express how much that means.

In addition to all my usual stuff… intermittent fasting, high fat, low carb, gluten-free, grain-free, I’ve been completely dairy-free for a few weeks and really think it’s helping. Just like everything else, I thought it would be really hard, but it’s been pretty fun. Like everything else, there is a ton of information online with lots of recipes for alternatives. I picked up some vegan butter at the store and then decided I’d try to make my own. It’s super easy, makes quite a bit, and tastes super close to dairy butter. Plus, it’s kind of fun diving into vegan recipes if only to find decent dairy alternatives.

Ingredients
• 1.5 cups melted neutral, refined coconut oil
• 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used hemp.)
• 1/4 cup light olive oil (I used almond oil.)
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 2 teaspoons liquid sunflower lecithin
• 1 teaspoon raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar

Instructions
Place all of the ingredients in a blender and process at medium speed for 1 minute. Pour into a container. Refrigerate. (Keeps 3-4 weeks.)

I’ve tried this a bunch of different ways and blended a few online recipes together. So far, this is my favorite combination. It’s gluten-free, low carb/keto/paleo, and could easily be made nut-free and/or vegan (see notes below). I’m pretty excited to take this base and create varieties by adding random protein and fiber powders, herbs, nut flours, mushroom powders, spices, extracts, etc. that are currently in my cabinets.

Ingredients
• 2 cups almonds/cashews/pistachios (I use sliced almonds.)
• 1 cup sunflower seeds
• 1 cup pumpkin seeds
• 1 cup flax seed meal
• 1 cup toasted coconut flakes (unsweetened)
• 1/3 cup coconut sugar (I replaced this with mini vegan chocolate chips.)
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup cacao nibs
• 1 cup hemp seeds
• Cover with cinnamon
• Vanilla extract (To liking. I use a lot.)

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 300F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Run nuts through a food processor if whole.
3. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
4. Spread mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet and bake 20 minutes.
5. Remove and let cool.

Notes
• To make this nut free, you could leave out the nuts or replace with more seeds.
• To make this vegan, you could replace the eggs with a blend of chia seeds and water, applesauce, or mashed banana.

Ingredients:
8oz Cream Cheese
1/2 Cup Butter (Salted)
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
1/8 Cup Erythitol
1 Serving (16 chips) Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (These are my go to because I really don’t like alternative sweeteners, but you could easily use keto chocolate chips for even less carbs. I’ll try this with Lindt 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark bits next time.)

Directions:

Mix ingredients together well. (I used a mixer.) Refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove and form into balls. Keep stored in a refrigerated air tight container.

Macros: (per ball, 20 count) 124 calories, 12g fat, 3g carbs, 2g protein

Note: I’ve tried this a few different times. The first version didn’t include flax or the egg, but I think they came out much better with the additions.

Ingredients:
2/3 cup chia seeds
2/3 cup sunflower seeds or hemp seeds
2/3 cup pumpkin seeds
2/3 cup sesame seeds
2/3 cup flax meal
1 egg
1 cup water
Garlic Powder (and/or other spices as desired – I use Za’atar)
Sea Salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pepita seeds, and sesame seeds.

Add the water, spices, and salt. Stir with a spatula until combined. Allow the mixture to sit for a couple of minutes until the chia seeds absorb the water. After the 2-minute rest, when you stir the mixture, you shouldn’t see a pool of water on the bottom of the bowl.

With the spatula (and a hand, if necessary), spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet in two small rectangles, about 12×7 inches each and 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle additional salt on top.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully flip each rectangle with a spatula. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes more, until lightly golden around the edges. Watch closely near the end to make sure they don’t burn. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes on the pan and then break the rectangles into crackers and let cool completely on the pan. Store in an airtight container or jar on the counter for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze the crackers in freezer bags for up to 1 month.

*If the crackers soften while storing (this can happen in humid environments), toast them in the oven on a baking sheet at 300ºF for 5 to 7 minutes. After cooling, this should return them to their former crispness!

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