This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.

The Loading Dock in Raleigh has been bringing together thought leaders and entrepreneurs since its founding in 2016. It will soon be launching another campus in the historic district of downtown Wake Forest.

Why Wake Forest? According to Clark Rinehart, Loading Dock Raleigh’s director of community, Wake Forest was primed and ready for an incubator space like Loading Dock.

“The town really was yearning for a premium, professional, and approachable coworking and shared workspace provider with ties across Wake County,” Rinehart said. “When they first approached us, we wanted to make sure that we were the right fit for the town with what we do and how we think about entrepreneurship and small business — things that Wake Forest is particularly focused on. People are already living and playing in Wake Forest and the town wants to see people continuing to grow and thrive from a professional standpoint too. Loading Dock felt like we could be a great resource for the town as they grew into their live-work-play model.”

Wake Forest, which was once considered a bedroom community, has proven that it is a “small town with big-city energy” in recent years.

From 2000 to 2019, the town experienced a 232 percent population increase and has one of the most educated citizenships in the Triangle — 54 percent of Wake Forest residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. With an impressive population boom and a talented workforce to match, local leaders and stakeholders have been intentional about paving the way for more economic and professional development opportunities.

One such resource has been Wake Forest’s Wireless Research Center, an independent nonprofit research center dedicated to engineering and applied science. The WRC is not just regionally recognized, but globally renowned, helping clients from around the world develop products and services that advance wireless technology innovation.

The WRC was one of the first places in Wake Forest to offer coworking space to companies like ReVibe and Green Stream Technologies and has helped launch more than 80 startups. Recognizing the coworking element of the WRC is not only popular amongst local entrepreneurs, but also instrumental to their success in many cases, the launch of Loading Dock Wake Forest is an exciting and necessary development for the Town.

Loading Dock – Wake Forest is being developed in a former warehouse space at 525 South White Street. The historic downtown space has sat largely unused over the past several years.

The nearly $3 million revitalization project is slated to transform roughly “24,000 square feet of leasable area into a two-story coworking and business incubator space, complete with street-facing multi-vendor food hall and event space,” stated a press release put out by the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership, which has been instrumental in catalyzing the project.

Additionally, the incubator is expected to house more than 100 companies with a collective employment of 436 at full capacity. Of these, it is forecasted there will be nearly 150 new jobs created in Wake Forest’s Renaissance District as a result of the development.

Such an impactful presence from the Loading Dock in downtown will also substantially increase economic opportunity for other businesses located in the heart of downtown.

In addition to coworking space, Loading Dock – Wake Forest will emphasize a community focus by opening itself as an event venue that is complimented by the significant greenspace adjacent to the property. This event space and the street-facing cafe anticipated in the development will create an estimated 36 jobs directly associated with their operations.

According to an economic impact analysis of the forthcoming project, the total financial impact of the development, including construction, operations of coworking businesses, the event center and food space is expected to be more than $182 million in Wake County and $103 million in added value to the Town of Wake Forest.

“This project means so much for downtown Wake Forest and the future of work in Wake Forest. It also sends a powerful message to the rest of the region about the progressive, innovative, wildly pro-business culture of our community,” said Jason Cannon, president of the WFBIP. “It’s a proud testament to the power of partnerships, and Loading Dock – Wake Forest will be a tremendous contribution to our flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Before COVID-19 swept the country, development was expected to begin during quarter two of this year, with estimations of a Q2 2021 opening. The timeline has understandably shifted, but the project is still slated for a 2021 opening date at present.

“Loading Dock – Wake Forest will really be the sharing of human resources,” said Bob Johnson, a longtime community member and the owner of several properties in downtown Wake Forest, including the warehouse at 525 South White Street.

Johnson is the co-owner of the Cotton Company, an upscale retail business incubator for entrepreneurs and artists. He knows first hand the power of collaborative and shared working environments.

“In spaces like these, what happens is you get people that are not only in a work environment, but some of their best benefits are being able to share ideas with other like-minded people,” Johnson continued. “It’s a collection point at which people come and they give and they gain. There’s not only a diversity of humans, but there’s also a diversity of technology, business ideas, and supply chain — all in one building.”

Johnson said these cross collaborations spark new ideas and people glean from the intelligence of their professional neighbors, even if they’re not necessarily in the same field. These types of collisions create the perfect setting for innovation.

The Loading Dock is operated “under the belief that where you work and who you work with is vitally important to the work you do” and is home to entrepreneurs, but also freelancers, creatives and remote professionals. It “functions to create a workspace focused around community that is unencumbered by the challenges of the traditional office space.”

“We connect business to the social fabric of our region, not just in the urban core, but also in places that are on the frontier of development,” Rinehart said. “We feel like there’s a lot of people working from home that aren’t participating in  a greater sense of personal and professional community. Loading Dock – Wake Forest is for them. And, it’s also for people who would choose to do business in Wake Forest if they had a premium, professional, and approachable model like ours versus having to come to Raleigh to really participate in the perceived ‘boom.’ We thought, what would it look like to have a little bit more of a suburban model, but on a main street within one of our fastest growing nodes in the Triangle?”

Loading Dock – Wake Forest will be a one-of-a-kind opportunity for entrepreneurs, startups and more to work, gather, collaborate, learn and grow — all in the heart of downtown Wake Forest.

“We already have a lot of folks who are commuting to our Dock 1053 location who live in North Raleigh and, I assume, might prefer to come to Wake Forest — just from a traffic standpoint. And then in other surrounding areas like in Heritage — there’s just so much growth,” Rinehart said. “We saw downtown Wake Forest as a great opportunity for a northern connector in Wake County and cultural fit for us.”

This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.