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New tech-oriented coworking space opening in Paducah

Courtesy of Sprocket

A new coworking space in western Kentucky is set to officially open its doors today.

Sprocket is a 9,000 square foot facility located in Paducah’s Coke Plant building. The nonprofit hopes this flexible space will be the home base for area tech companies, small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs. An invitation-only ribbon cutting and open house event will be held starting at 5 p.m. in Coke Plant this evening.

“The space allows us to gather those with entrepreneurial ideas, technical expertise, and business acumen all in one place,” said Sprocket founder and executive director Monica Bilak. “Doing this creates faster connections, stronger ideas, and a synergy you just don’t get in a solitary workspace.”

The purpose of the space is to help drive tech-oriented financial growth for the region. Sprocket’s internal projections put the nonprofit’s economic impact over $15.4 million in the next two years.

“We think the impact will be fantastic because people will earn more,” Bilak said. “When you create companies you create jobs, so we feel like there’ll be more job creation.”

This impact is expected to be a product of multiple tech-oriented economic development initiatives.

Sprocket partner organization Codefi, through its “1ST50K” startup competition, brought three new, tech-enabled companies to Paducah this fall. Codefi’s startup competition offered $50,000 in seed money with stipulations that the recipients would relocate operations to Paducah.

Courtesy of Sprocket

Other economic development efforts Sprocket is leading include workforce development projects like the Youth Coding League and Code Labs, a business pre-accelerator (Cultiv8tor) and angel and venture capital investments through the West KY Venture Network.

“They’re already working very hard on that 1ST50K program,” said Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Wilson. “It’s exciting to have that mindset of technology-based companies and bringing them into Paducah, all into the same location so that they can work together and have that feedback between each other, that interaction, that’s important when you are working on new company development and entrepreneurship.”

This arrangement is one that will be repeated over and over again, Sprocket board chair John Truitt said in a release. He sees the nonprofit’s operation and efforts to better the region as highly collaborative.

"Over time, we realized that we need more technology-driven companies here in Paducah and we definitely needed a physical space to anchor those new businesses,” said John Truitt, Board Chair of Sprocket. “We don’t and can’t do this work alone. As a highly collaborative organization, we are experts at finding experts. Codefi, a rural development agency that helps communities build their digital ecosystem, is one such expert partner.”

The $1.2 million buildout was funded via a $1 million forgivable loan from the Paducah City Commission and a pair of $100,000 contributions from the McCracken County Fiscal Court and the McCracken County Public Library. Sprocket is also one of six statewide Hubs for Entrepreneurial Development, and it receives operational support from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

“My hope is that the combination of the coworking space and the incentives that we have developed to attract tech startups to our community will drive economic development in a segment of the economy that we have not participated in up to this point,” Paducah Mayor George Bray told the station. “I believe that it’s an opportunity for us to find a young company that would relocate here. All of them may not be successful or even stay here but our hope is that one or two big ones hit that do decide to stay.”

McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer feels hopeful about the steps the community is taking with this new coworking space.

“It’s not building buildings. It’s not building sports parks,” he said. “It’s something that we can offer to smart people wanting to build opportunities for themselves and wanting to relocate here in Paducah and network with our community to generate innovative kind of ideas.

“It’s almost a futuristic kind of an opportunity.”

Memberships include private high-speed Wi-Fi, coffee, networking and professional development events and other amenities. The space will also play host to a business accelerator program, software development training and an international startup competition to benefit entrepreneurs and small businesses. Information about memberships is available on Sprocket’s website.

So far, Bilak said, Sprocket has been fielding interest in memberships and has filled seven offices with 13 still remaining available. Bilak is hoping they fill up fast with young and successful tech groups.

“There are so many promising young startup companies across our region,” Bilak said. “We want them to find a place to grow in Paducah, where we can give them access to mentorship, startup capital, even a physical office space.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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