WE Labs Founder Markus Manley at his desk in the 5500 square foot co-work space. Photos by Sarah Bennett.
Markus Manley sits in his new office on the corner of Pine Ave. and Broadway with all the windows open, enjoying the Long Beach scene below. From this small corner on the historic Dr. Rowan building’s second floor, the sounds of police sirens mingle with music from passing cars and the clamor of daytime drinkers at Shannons as people of all types walk by each other, happily going about their business.
Manley calls these signs of life “amenities”—things that remind him of Long Beach’s diverse urban environment and make him even more determined to turn the remainder of his 5500 square foot facility into Work Evolution Labs (or WE Labs), the city’s first co-working space.
“I’ve always been about the collaborative process and surrounding myself with other creatives,” the longtime Long Beach local says. “And one of the hardest things in Long Beach is that there has never been a true creative center. We have a ton of creative people, but we don’t have a place where driven creatives can surround each other, inspire each other and help each other.”
Co-working spaces are shared offices where once-isolated creative professionals can rent desks, use office supplies and drink free coffee alongside others like themselves. The central idea is not just to keep people out of coffeeshops and home offices, but to foster a collaborative environment where ideas can be shared, networking happens on the daily and members from a wide range of practices and industries can learn from one another.
A room at WE Labs' Downtown Long Beach space built out with desks available for rent.
It’s a relatively new concept, but one that has seen a boom in cities around the world. According to surveys of the co-working community, the number of new co-work spaces has doubled every year since 2006 with cities such as New York and San Francisco leading the way with hundreds of spaces each. Los Angeles now has more than 20 such co-work offices, each one offering everything from hourly rentals of a seat at a communal table to private office suites and conference rooms.
With more independent contractors flooding the market and many entrepreneurs eschewing the corporate office vibe, co-work options have changed the way that freelancers and small business owners operate.
“We have a guy coming in here who is in real estate,” says Manley. “He doesn't just flip houses, he invests in making them more functional and sustainable before selling them. People like that can come in here and benefit from being next to a party planner or a film maker to further develop their project. Because at the end of the day, the creative process is, in some ways, the same and we can all learn a lot from each other.”
Co-working creates a social work environment that builds off of the age-old adage, “two heads are better than one"—an idea that seems perfectly at home in community-driven Long Beach where some of the city’s best events are the result of collaboration between driven locals.
Since moving here from L.A. more than a decade ago, Manley has become one of these involved and driven locals. After stints as a movie-set PA, a hacker, a magazine publisher, a fashion designer and a rave promoter, Manley helped initiate many grassroots art projects such as Roll Up Long Beach (RU Long Beach), Tour Des Artists and Alley 425.
The main area at WE Labs is currently a loft-style event and meeting space. With funding, it will be built out to be a fully-functional co-work environment.
Though he conceptualized of a communal workspace for himself and his artistic friends nearly two years ago, it wasn’t until witnessing a conversation between a psychologist, a bee-keeper and an aerospace technician while working at this year’s TED convention that Manley decided he needed to make WE Labs a reality. He envisioned a space where people from all different backgrounds can come together and, through their own work, make Long Beach a better place.
“I really want to impress that the creative community in Long Beach is alive,” he says. “I feel like there are a lot of very creative people in this city that are doing things but can’t find the resources or support needed to take it to a professional level. At the end of the day, we all love our city and want to work here—there’s no other city I’d rather be in that’s for sure.”
Pouring much of his own money into acquiring the massive space in the heart of Downtown, Manley and his six-person team have built a WE Labs that functions on a minimal capacity, providing wi-fi, phones and dedicated office space as well as a conference room, silkscreening station and even a makeshift recording studio for its 12 current members.
And in preparing for the space's official late October launch, Manley has also put local artists to work, commissioning custom pieces to fill the staircase leading up to the second-floor space as well as paintings for the walls in what will hopefully become the main communal workspace.
But WE Labs needs more—about $35,000 more. And it’s turning to the public for help.
“Many financial backers underestimate the strength of the Long Beach creative and art community,” says Manley of why he decided to start an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the remaining funds for WE Labs. “Lots of dynamic people are born and live in our city, but find it necessary to leave. They do so to find the resources and connectivity necessary to thrive in their chosen discipline. WE Labs is here to help change that.”
Manley and his team’s final visions for WE Labs are printed on tall pieces of butcher paper and taped on the wall in what will soon become the reception area. A blueprint lists how the space will be divided into various rooms (“meditational/massage,” “live recording stage,” “sound and video editing”) and a panoramic rendering shows the space built out with stylish tables, ergonomic chairs, pilot printers and video conferencing equipment.
The mission statement—which will greet visitors who come to this weekend’s WE Meet Mixer—calls WE Labs a place “where forward-moving minds come to change the world, not the printer cartridge.”
“We're calling all writers, designers, filmmakers, producers, marketers, community leaders and visionaries,” Manley says. “We're calling all supporters of Long Beach and those who want to see it become a more vibrant city. This is your call to action.”
WE Labs is located at 105 W. Broadway. The WE Meet Mixer will take place this Saturday, September 29 from 5PM to 9PM. For more information on WE Labs, including how to become a member, visit the IndieGoGo campaign site.