Hamilton's shared economy grows in changing job and housing markets

More people are doing freelance or remote work, or creating their own jobs when they can't find ones that suit them. So in Hamilton, the coworking trend is growing.

Coworking an option when traditional career opportunities become harder to find

Tareq Nasser works at CoMotion 302. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Tareq Nasser is living the "new Hamilton" economy, making his own way as traditional, secure jobs prove harder to come by.

He worked as a manager in information technology in his native Jordan. But when he came to Canada three years ago, he couldn't find a job in his field.

Now he rents a desk at CoMotion 302 on Cumberland Avenue, one of Hamilton's burgeoning coworking spaces, for his own company. Each day, he shares water coolers and lunch rooms with other freelancers and entrepreneurs. One of them is including him in a podcast about artificial intelligence.

"Just working from home and attending functions and going to networking events is not the real thing," said Nasser, who founded Grey Haired Coders. 

Seedworks members rent desks by the month, but share kitchen space, boardrooms, wifi and other amenities. (Seedworks)

"It's the same wherever you go. You need to get to know people to develop any kind of business."

I don't think it was necessarily a hipster thing.- Ryan Moran

This is just one example of someone using Hamilton's "shared economy" — a model where people from different backgrounds rent desks and share work space. Or kitchen space. Or tools.

Stable jobs are hard to find, says Ryan Moran, a CoMotion founder. Millennials in particular are freelancing, or working remotely, or creating their own jobs. And working from home isn't for everyone.

Do your own thing

"People want to do their own thing and create their own secure jobs rather than fighting for spots in large organizations," Moran said. "People who want to make their own lives here are carving out their own niches."

Recent job numbers in Hamilton show the need for some new ideas. In 2015, a consortium of researchers did more than 4,000 interviews with workers between the ages of 25 and 65. They found nearly 60 per cent of Hamiltonians are in precarious employment, which means they have no job security, and often no benefits or regular scheduling. 

Hamilton's first coworking space, Seedworks, opened in 2013 in the old Tregunno Seeds factory. Since then, the concept has only grown.

Back then, "I was having a hard time remembering the words 'collaborative work space,'" said Jeff Feswick of Historia Restoration, who founded it with architect David Premi. "Now it just rolls off the tongue."

Joe Accardi opened the Platform 302 coworking space in 2013. In 2015, he merged with three others to form the CoMotion Group, which opened CoMotion on King. In 2016, Platform 302 became CoMotion 302.

More shared economy efforts followed. The Kitchen Collective offers commercial kitchen space to food truck operators and other kitchen-less food entrepreneurs. (The Syrian refugee-owned Karam Kitchen started there.)

Driven by finances

Steel City Studio is a "co-creating space" in the International Village. The Cotton Factory is a co-working space for people in creative sectors. With the Hamilton Tool Library, members can pay as little as $29 per year to borrow tools.

"We have good colleagues in their late 60s, and youngsters in early 20s," says Tareq Nasser, who operates Grey Haired Coders out of a co-working space. "We’ll be having lunch sometimes and making jokes about each other's ages." The back terrace at CoMotion 302 includes brightly coloured chairs and an old broken piano. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Such efforts are popular where vacancy rates are shrinking and rent is increasing, particularly on old "brick-and-beam" buildings, said Shawn Gilligan, a market analyst at QuadReal Property Group. He's researched co-working in Kitchener-Waterloo and the GTA.

"It is a growing trend," Gilligan said.

In 2016, for example, Gilligan found Toronto has 39 coworking office space companies with 80 locations across the GTA.

In coworking spaces, people share meeting spaces, lunchrooms and water coolers. At CoMotion 302, Nasser eats lunch on the terrace overlooking railway tracks at the base of the escarpment. There, people socialize and "train spot," he said.

Separating home and work

Tenants at CoMotion's two locations rent out 50 offices ($680 per month) and 40 desks ($249 per month). For $99 per month, some use the tables and sofas in the commons area. At Seedworks, members lease a desk, five hours of boardroom time and other perks — "the best internet in Hamilton," Feswick says — for $425 per month. 

Erika MacKay, 30, started two businesses in a coworking environment. A New Brunswick native, she moved to Hamilton with her husband five years ago. She was disillusioned with the workplace cultures she'd experienced, and started her own Niche for Design and Hamilton Office Pro companies.

Karam Kitchen, run by three women who came to Hamilton as Syrian refugees, started at the Kitchen Collective. (J. Walton)

Working from home wasn't working for her, she said. She didn't know anyone. She wasn't making contacts.

And when you work from home, said Nic Shulz of the Sustain Change Canada communications firm, "there is no separation between home and work."

When the shared economy started, people saw it "a hipster or a millennial thing," Moran said.

"I don't think it was necessarily a hipster thing. I think it was a trend for how business and small business are developing."

CoMotion is looking for a third space. At Seedworks, Premi has outgrown his space, so soon, 12 new desks will be up for grabs.

This spring, Moran hosted the Hamilton Shared Summit, focused on the shared economy. He's holding another next spring.

CoMotion is looking at a third location. (Photo supplied by CoMotion)

Not everyone is happy with the evolution. In June, an anarchist group on an anti-gentrification vandalism spree glued the locks at one of CoMotion's locations.

In an internet posting, the group also claimed responsibility for broken windows on two Barton Street East restaurants, and glued locks at the Acclamation condo site on James Street North and a Westdale real estate office.

"Real estate agents, property management firms, investors, and business owners amongst others, reap huge profits as many of us who have called Hamilton home struggle to get by in the changing city," said the post on AnarchistNews.org.

Moran chalks that up to "kind of a misunderstanding" about what CoMotion does.

"They tie us to the cost of gentrification and we get lumped in to that," he said. "We're all from the city."


  • CoMotion, over its two locations, has 50 offices and 40 desks. Also, Platform 302 became part of the CoMotion group in 2016, not 2013.
    Oct 02, 2017 11:45 AM ET