A recent Zillow survey found that “more than half of working Americans being given the opportunity to work from home said they would like to continue doing so once the pandemic has passed.” Additionally, a Harris Poll reported “nearly forty percent of U.S. adults living in urban areas indicated they would consider moving out of populated areas.”  These survey responses indicate that large city, high density office workers are looking beyond workplace choices that are already hampered by office density, high rents, and traffic congestion. Coupled with the challenges of post COVID-19 virus impact, many of these workers are seriously considering social distancing as a business and personal lifestyle. Even major companies are realizing the business benefits of remote working employees that can save companies money and enable businesses to retain talent.  With the decentralization of high density office space, employers and workers becoming more comfortable with teleworking, and the desire to have a better quality of life and lower cost of living, quality cities like Newport can become a highly desirable place to live and work for Post COVID-19 innovation businesses and entrepreneurs.

Coworking spaces will become an important economic engine for enterprising entrepreneurs, small business operators and most importantly, those teleworking from home that will also require from time to time access to high-speed Internet, Class A office and meeting facilities, conference rooms, peer to peer networking events, mailbox services, and all the amenities so that an enterprising innovator can focus on driving their business forward. Designed and built as a community hub for small business innovators and remote workers, all of these requirements to engage and expand Newport’s position as a great place to live and work is fully embodied within the Innovate Newport coworking space on Broadway.

The change in how and where businesses and employees operate will also demand a fresh approach to economic development. As more workers are teleworking, more will also organize their business operating models into “1099” contracting.  Some of America’s most prosperous economic sectors presently operate this way, most notably the defense innovation sector already well entrenched on Aquidneck Island.  A 1099 worker is a self-employed independent contractor who is hired for a business under the terms of a specified contract of services.  1099 workers are self-employed and pay their own taxes and report their income through the IRS’s 1099 form.  Like those workers that are teleworking from home, many 1099 workers are also working from home and also look for coworking spaces that can afford them access to all the small business benefits and amenities to sustain their work.

The one thing we can all largely agree upon is that most of us will not go back to what was once standard working and living arrangements. Many state and local governments will move to implement economic recovery strategies to attract talent to their area and promote resilient, innovation ecosystems. The City of Newport has a significant head start in this effort having designed and currently operating one of the region’s innovation hubs at Innovate Newport. The new normal within business sustainability will find more workers teleworking and operating as independent contractors with more flexible time, but many will also demand access to critical small business support amenities and services. 

A suggested starting point for Newport government, real estate, and hospitality leaders is to launch a series of webinars to present and promote Innovate Newport’s availability to directly meet the business needs of the Post COVID-19 teleworker, small business, and employer.  Said webinars can also tout Newport’s exceptional quality of living and hospitality assets. Additionally, Innovate Newport can become an information hub for state and federal programming to assist businesses recovering from pandemic economic disruptions, connecting members and the greater region as a central public network provider. 

As Newport government and business leaders prepare for a transformed economy and community, they should immediately embrace the opportunity of positioning Innovate Newport as the economic engine to revive, diversify and sustain the next generation of city innovation workers, residents, friends, and neighbors.

Keith Stokes is the former executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce and Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.