BY PETER DORFMAN
In 2015, when Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton took office, Dimension Mill, the century-old former Showers Brothers factory building at 642 N. Madison St., was the subject of a speculative plan to create a 12-acre Trades District. The hope was to accelerate a high-tech renaissance on the city’s near west side.
Three years later, in November 2018, the site was officially recast as The Mill, an incubator for entrepreneurial start-ups. The site houses at least 15 startups in fields ranging from artificial intelligence, marketing communications, and film distribution to medical device manufacturing and nutrition counseling. In a large common area, freelancers, gig workers, and digital dreamers congregate around café-style tables or standing desks, endeavoring to invent the future.
“Bloomington has long had nearly full employment, but wage growth has been flat, and since the Great Recession in 2008, we’re down 880 jobs,” notes Pat East, executive director of Dimension Mill, the nonprofit organization that runs The Mill. “Companies with fewer than five employees are responsible for most of the net new job creation in the U.S. People who visit The Mill will probably see the future of Bloomington’s economy.”
The Mill offers a range of membership options, from conventional office leasing to casual co-working, which includes taking advantage of the facility’s open-office desk spaces and shared conference rooms as well as its high-speed internet. Some members rent fixed desk spaces or cubicles, but most drop in and grab whatever work surfaces are available.
“There’s an intangible benefit to being around people, whether you interact with them or not,” says Sonny Kirkley, who uses the facility part time.
Kirkley, a serial entrepreneur, is currently building a new virtual reality venture and sees The Mill as an alternative for IU graduates who typically flee Indiana for high-tech industries on both coasts.
“Bloomington has tried before to establish a hub for technology businesses,” Kirkley says. “But The Mill is the first location with the amenities and public support needed for an entrepreneurial community to get a foothold.”
Dimension Mill holds regular public events where anyone intrigued by the emerging entrepreneurial lifestyle is welcome to come hear experienced people talk about how to dive into the lifestyle—and, maybe more importantly, how to finance it.
To learn more about The Mill, visit dimensionmill.org.