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‘Doable In Delaware’: What Attracted A Coworking Startup To The First State

Robert Herrera, founder of Delaware coworking space The Mill

Robert Herrera, founder of coworking space The Mill, credits his business’s success partly to being in the right place at the right time.

For Herrera, the place is Delaware and the time has been the past five years, which saw the popularity of coworking skyrocket, especially among employers looking to attract talented employees seeking flexible work options.

While his business today is based in Delaware, in 2008, Herrera was a young New York City architect working for a firm that had a client with a then-novel business approach. 

“We got WeWork as a client and I was project-managing some of the work,” he said. “I got a front-row seat to what the startup life was like, and somewhere within that process, I caught the bug.”

Herrera was inspired to become an entrepreneur and start his own business. He also decided his area of focus would be the new coworking concept, which he saw could help incubate new businesses and assist companies in attracting and retaining talented employees.

However, when it came time to decide where he would incorporate and set up shop, Herrera looked outside of the crowded New York City market. 

“I wanted to kick it off in my home state of Delaware,” he said. “There was a lot of competition in New York City and the cost of getting a real, proper coworking space off the ground was high. On the other hand, it was all very doable in Delaware.”

Herrera named his new business in honor of the Eleutherian Mills, the first manufacturing facility of DuPont, which went on to become the biggest private sector employer in the state. The Mill is even located in a former DuPont building in downtown Wilmington.

“We started off with 13K SF of space in 2016, and within six months of opening, the space more than doubled in size,” Herrera said. “Today, we have a little over 90K SF downtown, a second location in Concord and other locations on the horizon.”

Herrera said he doubts his business could have blossomed the way it has had it launched in another state. 

“I really love this state and I think there are a lot of advantages to doing business in Delaware,” he said. “The cost of entry here is lower than in some neighboring states, but we’re still within commuting distance to Philadelphia, where many of my co-workers live, as well as other big metropolises and their talent pools.” 

Delaware’s central location also acts as a magnet for young talent, he said. 

“I think Delaware has become more appealing during the pandemic, which has had a huge impact on where a lot of young, talented employees want to work,” Herrera said. “Instead of gravitating to the big cities, young workers have been coming home to work or looking at different options like coworking spaces.”

The Mill’s roster of tenants is diverse, ranging from independent freelancers to fast-growing businesses, and it exceeds more than 400 member companies in its Wilmington location alone. It counts law firms, fintech startups and a DuPont spinoff among them. The Concord location, which opened just prior to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, has 80 members.

The Mill has served as a community hub during the pandemic, Herrera said, where its members can bounce ideas off one another and share advice.

“This pandemic has been very difficult for small startups,” he said. “Imagine going through that all alone, just sitting in your house by yourself. I checked in regularly with the active members of The Mill, and we would all share resources, like how to do the Paycheck Protection Program application.”

Herrera said he is grateful to the state government and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the statewide economic development resource, for their support of the Mill and its members. State officials, all the way up to the governor, are accessible by phone if he has questions or concerns, he said.

Herrera said that open, collaborative attitude is part of Delaware’s culture.

“Even in this polarized time, people in Delaware have this ability to come together,” he said. “We've been able to avoid some of the divisive, polarized culture that you see today. We talk to each other no matter where you come from, no matter what you're doing. I think the state is well-positioned going into the next decade.”

Herrera is optimistic about the future of coworking, too.

“Coworking to date accounts for only 2.1% of the total office space in the United States, but I foresee that more than tripling in a very short amount of time as we roll out of this pandemic,” he said. “I think coworking’s value and the role it plays in our local economy are going to grow significantly.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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