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February 26, 2023

Modern offices are a far cry from the days of bulky roll-top desks, uncomfortable wooden chairs, pot-belly stoves and other meager furnishings of drab, dark environments that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge proud.

At Interworks in Mount Airy, the local area's first-ever co-working space, it's a totally different story.

The sparkling new facility certainly contains elements of today's maximum-efficiency offices such as high-speed Internet and other cutting-edge communications technology, and comfy ergonomic-friendly furniture for offices, which at Interworks might be a cube, private room or entire suite.

Safe to say the decor there is a departure from the old-style arrangements lacking imagination and creativity.

Then there are extra amenities to be found at Interworks which are perhaps uncommon, but make the work setting as pleasant as possible while also promoting functionality: a lounge with a big-screen television set; kitchen facilities including refrigerators, microwave ovens, a coffee bar rivalling Starbucks and an ice machine. Countertops, tables and chairs are available for dining.

Executive suites upstairs are even equipped with a fully stocked liquor bar and private restrooms.

Interworks has large and small conference rooms, projection screens for PowerPoint and other presentations, whiteboards, state-of-the-art printing capabilities, access to books and relevant newspapers including The Wall Street Journal.

In a word — what it offers to business professionals of all types is flexibility with a capital "F."

"That's the name of the game when it comes to this," Interworks founder Michael Brannock said of the key concept embodied by the facility launched in Mount Airy earlier this month.

"This is the first co-working space in Surry County," Brannock explained while giving a tour of its spacious, cozy confines at 190 Virginia St. which represent an investment of just over $2 million.

"Really, the closest one is in Winston-Salem," added Brannock, who says there is nothing similar in what he calls the "Rural Triad" region.

Nothing left out

From the outside, Interworks resembles other two-story buildings downtown, which obscures the presence of the luxurious surroundings to be found inside the 14,000-square-foot structure.

The Interworks design didn't overlook atmospheric qualities that can be important for one's mental state — and productivity.

"We wanted light — we wanted color," Brannock said of the open, airy ambience that resulted.

Even the artwork planned for Interworks’ large lounge/office area has a purpose other than decorative. Brannock says all the paintings and similar features to eventually grace its walls will be made of soundproof materials to lessen the echo in the room.

If someone needs to take a private call while in the lounge section during the middle of a meeting, they can go to one of four enclosed phone booths there.

To provide further inspiration, walls are adorned with famous quotes from titans of business such as Henry Ford and Mark Cuban which Brannock hand-picked.

It seems that everything a person can face during the work day has been accommodated at Interworks.

Camaraderie a bonus

While new to Surry County, co-working spaces have caught on in other areas.

Co-working is a communal-type arrangement not employed in traditional office settings, which involves personnel of different companies or businesses sharing space. This allows cost savings and convenience via the use of common infrastructure such as equipment, along with cleaning and other services.

Brannock says someone needing a small office, for example, can rent one at Interworks and avoid the Internet and utility hookup hassles that normally would be required along with having to manage and maintain a building.

As a longtime executive of the Workforce Unlimited staffing firm, he saw a need for co-working space in Mount Airy.

"I absolutely think this is an asset to the community when it comes to economic development," the local businessman said, "to help Mount Airy move forward."

Brannock also referred to local "Vision" studies in 2021 during which citizen committees identified various goals for economic development and other segments:

"One of the big things that came out of that was a need for co-working space."

Brannock consulted with Todd Tucker on the Interworks project, before Tucker resigned as president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, who fully supported the effort along with city officials.

Those taking space at Interworks on an ongoing basis so far — known as "members" — include six different companies or individuals, according to Marie Talbert, its business manager.

Among them are Mountcastle Insurance; a furniture business; a flooring contractor; and a person working in a bookkeeping capacity at Thirsty Souls Community Brewing nearby who has a separate space at Interworks where he can ply his craft without interruptions.

"There are lot of individual professionals who would love office space," Brannock said of those Interworks caters to, along with businesses. The trend of more residences downtown also falls in line with the desire of some living there to have offices nearby.

Businesses using the Interworks facility can put their logos on office windows, with name plates placed on cube spaces.

In addition to the other benefits of co-working spaces are the camaraderie and collaboration that develops among the varied occupants. "We feel like it's a community within a community," Brannock said, a contrast to the loneliness persons working out of their homes sometimes experience.

At the same time, Interworks’ scheduling flexibility offers a place for such individuals to escape the kids and dogs for a while — "just a place to come," Brannock said of what amounts to a simple change of scenery. Day passes can be had at the site for $30.

Members have 24/7 keyless access in a security-oriented environment, along with mail-handling services through the providing of a professional business address.

Interworks also has a manned reception area where visitors are greeted.

Event space part of mix

The idea of developing the Interworks facility coincided with Workforce Unlimited's move from an office complex on Caudle Drive to a building formerly housing a family insurance business, which was owned by David Pruett until bought by the staffing firm.

Workforce Unlimited, which fronts West Independence Boulevard, is in the same building as Interworks located to its rear on Virginia Street.

"It's meant for them to be a part of this," Brannock said of the Workforce family, "but it's also meant to be kept separate to avoid confusion."

Renovations got under way at the beginning of 2022 for the Interworks facility. "It took the better part of the year, but I think it was worth it," Brannock said.

Along with office space, Interworks offers a venue for special meetings or events which can accommodate about 75 people.

"You can rent meeting space by the hour," Brannock said, which includes the option of food being provided by downtown restaurants.

Offices are available on a month-to-month basis or long term (one year), with additional details on membership options listed on the website.

Nothing left out Camaraderie a bonus Event space part of mix