Now in Beth­le­hem: Way of the fu­ture?

Ven­ture X opens, eyes ad­di­tional Val­ley lo­ca­tions as more busi­nesses look into shared of­fice space

The Morning Call - - Front Page - By Jon Har­ris

It came to Terry Wal­lace as an epiphany. On a Sun­day about two years ago at his Palmer Town­ship home, Wal­lace’s daugh­ter, Michaella, posed a ques­tion be­fore his weekly com­mute to New York City, where he kept an apart­ment for a job at WeWork.

“Are you go­ing home tonight?” she asked.

Wal­lace, think­ing he was home, re­al­ized it was time for a change, af­ter two decades of com­mut­ing to New York. So he left WeWork and de­cided to start his own busi­ness — near home, in the Le­high Val­ley.

“It was just ob­vi­ous to me: What did I need for 20 years?” Wal­lace said. “I needed a world-class of­fice space with­out a com­mute that I could do great things from.”

He’s bet­ting oth­ers need one, too. Wal­lace is pres­i­dent of Ven­ture X Le­high Val­ley, a mem­ber­ship-based flex­i­ble workspace that opened Sept. 22 at Gate­way at Green­way Park, at Third and New streets in south Beth­le­hem. The 13,000-square-foot op­er­a­tion spans two floors, con­nected by a float­ing stair­case in­dica­tive of the space’s in­dus­trial loft de­sign in­cor­po­rat­ing stone, steel, wood and glass. Ven­ture X of­fers com­mon ar­eas, con­fer­ence rooms, floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows and pri­vate phone booths, as well as 40 ded­i­cated of­fice spa­ces.

While launch­ing the op­er­a­tion dur­ing a pan­demic was ad­mit­tedly tricky and led to sev­eral tech­ni­cal changes, such as touch­less en­try and foot-ped­aled wa­ter foun­tains, Ven­ture X is at­tract­ing mem­bers and al­ready has filled sev­eral of­fices with busi­nesses in­volved in the tech­nol­ogy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, mar­ket­ing, fi­nance and in­sur­ance in­dus­tries. What Wal­lace is more ex­cited about is that mem­bers have started to col­lab­o­rate with one an­other — while masked and so­cially dis­tanced, of course.

“We’re fo­cus­ing on mak­ing this a busi­ness bee­hive,” Wal­lace said. “Our fo­cus is on busi­ness in­te­gra­tion and am­pli­fi­ca­tion.”

The open­ing comes amid a pan­demic that is prompt­ing change in of­fice real es­tate. Many be­lieve cowork­ing op­er­a­tions, such as Ven­ture X, Con­vene or WeWork, will play a sig­nif­i­cant role in fu­ture work­places, of­fer­ing flex­i­bil­ity that com­pa­nies will in­creas­ingly covet mov­ing for­ward.

It’s one rea­son why Wal­lace is plan­ning to ex­pand Ven­ture X in the Le­high Val­ley. He said he al­ready has plans un­der­way for one lo­ca­tion each in Al­len­town and Eas­ton. Beth­le­hem is the first Penn­syl­va­nia lo­ca­tion for Ven­ture X, a fran­chise brand quickly grow­ing across the coun­try and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Wal­lace, wholed global hu­man re­sources op­er­a­tions at phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal gi­ant Pfizer and then at rapid growth startup WeWork, said com­pa­nies for years have been ex­am­in­ing ways to re­duce real es­tate costs while be­com­ing more ag­ile, ef­fi­cient and thought­ful in how they use re­sources and en­gage em­ploy­ees. The coro­n­avirus, which forced of­fices to shut down, pro­vided the cat­a­lyst.

“Com­pa­nies have been work­ing on this for a long time, and this has ac­cel­er­ated it,” Wal­lace said. “Com­pa­nies that weren’t think­ing about this are — it’s be­come busi­ness crit­i­cal.”

The work-from-home trend is ex­pected to out­last the pan­demic, and will force com­pa­nies at least to of­fer flex­i­ble op­tions. That flex­i­bil­ity, in turn, has ben­e­fits for em­ploy­ers who can po­ten­tially lower real es­tate costs while widen­ing their tal­ent pools be­yond ge­o­graphic bor­ders.

While ac­tiv­ity within the high-growth flex­i­ble of­fice space mar­ket has slowed dur­ing the pan­demic, cowork­ing op­er­a­tions such as Ven­ture X are ex­pected to play an im­por­tant role in the of­fice of the fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 126 real es­tate ex­ec­u­tives con­ducted this year by com­mer­cial real es­tate ser­vices firm CBRE.

In the sur­vey, 73% said flex­i­ble of­fice space will be part of their long-term real es­tate strat­egy, with many com­pa­nies think­ing flex space will play an even greater role mov­ing for­ward.

“Oc­cu­piers are still con­sid­er­ing flex­i­ble of­fice space as a stop­gap to de­lays in new con­struc­tion or as an al­ter­na­tive to at-home work,” CBRE’s re­port said. “No cap­i­tal com­mit­ment and no risk of be­ing stuck with un­needed space is a com­pelling com­bi­na­tion when the fu­ture is even more un­cer­tain than usual.”

That flex­i­bil­ity is a cru­cial part of Wal­lace’s pitch. For ex­am­ple, Ven­ture X has mem­ber­ship plans as short as six months, as op­posed to real es­tate leases that could run five to 10 years. For mem­bers, gourmet cof­fee, print­ing and Wi-Fi are in­cluded, and the front desk is staffed by Ven­ture X Com­mu­nity Di­rec­tor Jes­sica San­toro. Mem­bers never see a util­ity bill.

That con­ve­nience is what lured Der­rick and War­ren Clark, own­ers of Clark Home Group, to take an of­fice at Ven­ture X at a time when their grow­ing busi­ness needed a home base.

“You’ve got all the ne­ces­si­ties you need in an of­fice,” Der­rick Clark said.

“Terry has gone out of his way to make it state-of-the-art and user-friendly,” War­ren Clark added.

The Clarks also worked with Wal­lace to out­fit Ven­ture X with fur­ni­ture from their lineup of small busi­ness re­tail­ers. Clark Home Group is fur­ther part­ner­ing with Ven­ture X by pro­vid­ing new mem­bers with of­fice de­sign ser­vices, help­ing of­fice-users lay out and per­son­al­ize their spa­ces.

Just a few weeks in at Ven­ture X, the Clarks said they’ve been ap­proached by other mem­bers look­ing to col­lab­o­rate and work on larger projects.

Wal­lace sees value in that kind of in-per­son con­nec­tion. While work­ing at home makes sense for some, he be­lieves most pre­fer the ben­e­fits of con­ven­ing. In Beth­le­hem, and the planned lo­ca­tions in Al­len­town and Eas­ton, Wal­lace thinks Ven­ture X will at­tract a va­ri­ety of mem­bers, from the bread-and-but­ter com­mu­nity busi­nesses such as ac­coun­tants, lawyers and real es­tate agents, to sales­peo­ple for na­tional com­pa­nies scat­tered across the re­gion.

“With those three strate­gic lo­ca­tions, I very much look for­ward to say­ing: If you live in the Le­high Val­ley, you’re no more than 15 min­utes from your net­work of of­fice space, ameni­ties and ser­vices that you can use in a very ag­ile way to ben­e­fit your busi­ness,” Wal­lace said.

And for Wal­lace, who grew up in a mil­i­tary fam­ily, mov­ing ev­ery other year through high school, and later spent al­most 20 years com­mut­ing into New York City, he’s happy his job has fi­nally come home.

RICKKINTZE­L/THE MORN­ING CALL

Terry Wal­lace, pres­i­dent of Ven­ture X Le­high Val­ley, shows the open space that flows onto the sec­ond floor of the 13,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity in Beth­le­hem.

Ven­ture X Com­mu­nity Di­rec­tor Jes­sica San­toro runs the front desk at the 13,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity in Beth­le­hem. Mem­bers, who can sign up for six months or longer, have ac­cess to cof­fee, print­ing and Wi-Fi.

Ven­ture X has sub­tle de­tails in Beth­le­hem, like this light fix­ture in the shape of the com­pany logo. but doesn’t fea­ture much brand­ing so mem­bers can feel like they’re in their own space.

PHO­TOS BYRICKKINT­ZEL/THE MORN­ING CALL

Ven­ture X of­fers com­mon ar­eas, like the one pic­tured here.

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