Editor’s note: Jess Porta is director of HQ Raleigh.

RALEIGH — In 2018, Caswell Economic Development began to explore what it might look like to bring a collaborative workspace to their community. They toured co-working spaces and researched the needs of their own community members.

What they found was a deep need for access to broadband internet, central meeting spaces, and professional office space. Prior to this project, community members were parking their cars outside of public buildings just to get enough internet speed to send emails.

According to Cori Lindsay, Caswell County Economic Development Director, “Many of our home based businesses, including agriculture producers, currently do not have access to reliable internet connections. This cripples our entrepreneurs by not allowing them to readily have access to the markets, data, and technology they need to succeed.”

HQ’ Raleigh’s Jessica Porta.

In fact, only about 50 percent of residents have reliable internet connections in the area. It became clear that if people were going to start and grow their businesses in Caswell, they needed to come up with a solution fast. That’s when CoSquare was born.

“Prior to this project, community members were parking their cars outside of public buildings just to get enough internet speed to send emails.”

CoSquare is a 9,000-square-foot collaborative workspace, located in a renovated drug store in the center of the town square in Yanceyville. The drugstore (pictured here with former owner, Tommy Davis) has been a staple of the Yanceyville community for years and will continue to serve the community in a new and powerful way.

The space will consist of an open co-working space with a cafe/bar area, small private offices, and flexible meeting spaces. The membership will be at an affordable monthly rate and will include: coffee, print/copy services, mailing services, access to meeting rooms, high-speed broadband internet connection, and more.

But the amenities are just the tip of the iceberg. What the space will really provide is an opportunity for small business owners to connect, collaborate, and network across industries; especially a main industry in Caswell: agriculture.

In fact, their main space tenant is an agtech company called Mesur.io, who went through the Tech Stars program. Mesur.io has developed an Earthstream Platform which provides growers and enterprises with real-time environmental analytics, from germination to consumption.

“We believe that supporting businesses and agriculture producers in this type of environment will create new jobs and enhance quality of life in the community,” explains Lindsay. “We also believe connecting our producers with more traditional entrepreneurs will encourage collaboration and innovation for both groups. We really see our entrepreneurs and business owners and want this space to be a welcoming environment for them to be creative and collaborative.”

CoSquare is also exploring the idea of supporting local Main Street businesses through pop-up opportunities and will serve as a community space with public events and workshops.

The objectives of CoSquare are to:

  1. Advance the economic development efforts of Caswell County by supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, especially agriculture producers;
  2. Help companies get established and rooted in the Caswell community, so they become permanent contributors to the overall diversity and growth of the county’s economy;
  3. Increase businesses access to high speed internet and foster adaptation of new technologies and techniques within rural businesses.

To carry out this vision, Caswell Country has been working with HQ Raleigh, as an HQ Affiliate partner. Through this relationship, Yanceyville has received support in the design and development of the site and will be able to tap into state-wide resources for their entrepreneurs such as HQ’s member network, business resources (such as the law clinic at HQ), virtual events, office hours, a talent pipeline, and even coworking space when members are traveling to Raleigh.

“I grew up in a very rural town in Pennsylvania. So to me, Raleigh is a big city,” says Jess Porta, Director or HQ, “And while I love being in a big city, I often find myself longing for a world where I can live the rural lifestyle but with the heart and resources of a city. Now, that might become a new reality. Caswell County is one of only a handful of small towns who are working to make this happen in NC, and I’m really excited that we get to be a part of this collaboration! I hope we continue to work with other rural communities to bridge that urban-rural divide and make resources more accessible for all.”

CoSquare is set to open late summer or early fall 2020. HQ Raleigh will be hosting a virtual walk-through and interview with the CoSquare team in the coming weeks.

To learn more, visit their website.