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  • Courtesy photo

    The shared business lounge at the Regus "coworking" space in south Nashua.
  • Courtesy photo

    The executive area at the Regus "coworking" space in south Nashua.
  • Courtesy photo

    The receiption area at the Regus "coworking" space in south Nashua.
Sunday, January 29, 2012

‘Flexible workspace’ company Regus comes to Nashua, its first N.H. expansion

The big term for business in this recession-wracked and globalized world is flexibility.

If new technology or a financing crunch don’t change your world next week, the Chinese might, and you’d better be ready.

A global firm called Regus has made a business catering to that desire by leasing “flexible workspaces” to companies and individuals in 1,200 cities around the globe, including Nashua.

The Belgium-based firm just opened a 12,000-square-foot “business center” in an office park at Tara Boulevard, off Exit 1 of the F.E. Turnpike. The center opened Jan. 23.

With 58 rentable offices, reception services and various communal spaces for brainstorming, videoconferencing or high-end networking, it’s the company’s first location in New Hampshire as they spread north from the Boston area.

“We have 20 other New England locations, ranging from a little smaller, to one we just opened in the Prudential Tower in the Back Bay, which is three times the size,” said Maria Paitchel, Regus area director for New England.

“Our clients vary from start-ups, to attorneys, accountants, business consultants, to Fortune 500 companies that have set up an office in the Northeast, and have outsourced office space requirement to Regus,” she said.

Regus is part of an industry segment, also called “shared workspace” or “co-working,” that has been growing fast since the recession hit.

Lots of laid-off engineers, business people, graphic artists and the like suddenly became independent contractors and freelancers and needed a better base of operations than their living room. Places with names like the Innovation Loft in San Francisco began to open up around the country. Many of these services are also provided by firms such as Kinko’s, now part of FedEx.

The flexible-workspace business segment has grown to the point it has a trade publication – Deskmag – and an online analysis site – Emergent Research’s co-working blog – and an annual American conference, held in Austin. It’s called the Coworking Unconference, referencing the slightly counterculture tinge that co-working sometimes carries.

The industry should not be confused with “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces,” such as the new MakeIt Labs on Crown Street in Nashua. While makerspaces also offer access to space, equipment and shared knowledge in return for a monthly fee, they are aimed at the do-it-yourselfer or the pre-startup tinkerer, whereas co-working’s clients are established businesses or individuals.

Emergent Research did a 2010 survey and said that co-working spaces are largely populated by educated males mostly under 40, 44 percent of them freelancers or sole proprietors and the rest mostly working for small companies. Regus, with 1,200 operations in 90 countries, is the co-working industry leader. It started in Belgium in 1989, targeting firms that wanted a cheap, easy way to open a new office or have a short-term office for sales or production staff on a job, and has flourished in the new business environment.

Regus thinks its global reach gives it an edge, because monthly membership gives access to portions of all its 1,200 locations, as well as services like virtual offices.

“If you have time between appointments, the membership card gives access to the lounge, access to Internet services, printing. It’s a home away from home, wherever you are,” Paitchel said – although “office away from office” is probably a better way to put it.

Regus offers terms as short as three months – Paitchel said the average client stays about 18 months but some have stayed “more than 20 years” – and membership starts as low as $25/month, although getting your own office will cost at least $325 a month.

The Nashua site has so much space that Regus had to install an electronic directory in the building’s foyer, because a traditional directory wouldn’t have room for 58 different listings.

“We’ve had a lot of demand for this area from clients (in Massachusetts). They live in New Hampshire and want to take advantage of the tax benefits of living and working here,” said Paitchel.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or