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September 26, 2018

SoPoCo.Works earlier-than-expected expansion includes podcast studio

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
James LaPlante, left, owner of SoPoCo.Works and Tanner Campbell, owner of The Portland Pod, sit in the new podcast recording studio at SoPoCo.Works in South Portland.

SOUTH PORTLAND — When James LaPlante opened SoPoCo.Works in May, it was phase I of the project.

One third of the 3,700-square-foot former medical office at 1486 Broadway was still a traditional office wing, which was occupied by a group of therapists. LaPlante speculated at the time the second phase, converting that space into more coworking offices and open desk space, would come in about a year.

Turns out, he'd underestimated the demand.

Five months after SoPoCo.Works opened, all 14 of the private offices in the coworking space — half of which are in the phase II area — are occupied, and there's a waiting list.

Overall, the coworking center has 30 members, including those who have dedicated desks and floating members, who work at what space is available day-to-day.

LaPlante said Tuesday that there is still room for 10 more dedicated desk and floating members.

About a third of the members are video and media producers. LaPlante, who owns Sputnik Animation, developed the coworking center because the nearest coworking was in downtown Portland, but also because there wasn't much available that meets specific needs of people who do video and media production.

New to the plan, in the phase II space, is what may be the state's only rentable dedicated podcasting studio.

While the phase II wing of the 1980s split-level office building is still in the renovation stage — a waiting room, complete with chairs and magazines is still at the heart of the space, for instance — several coworking offices have been renovated and four of his traditional office tenants stayed on as coworking members.

Dedicated podcasting space

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
SoPoCo.Works on Broadway in South Portland. The addition at the right is being renovated to add more coworking space.

Adding the podcast studio "was kind of a no-brainer," LaPlante said Tuesday.

He'd already been thinking about making the conference room more usable for podcast recording, but then Tanner Campbell became a member.

Campbell, whose day job is in information technology, is also owner of The Portland Pod, which offers podcast support, including engineering, editing and marketing.

Campbell didn't need the large office available in the phase II wing of the building, and he and LaPlante agreed it could serve two uses, with Campbell using half for his podcast producing business and the other half as a podcasting studio.

While there are many Maine-produced podcasts, it's hard to gauge a number since nobody keeps track — think self-publishing, only with podcasts. Podcasters generally record where they can.

The SoPoCo.Works podcast studio, which has just been completed, is sound-proofed and lined for good acoustics, the windows covered with padding. It's comfortably dim, with a funky barrel table, two chairs and suspended microphones. A bust of 19th century political reformer Alexis de Tocqueville keeps watch over the table.

The studio is available to SoPoCo.Works members for an additional fee, as well as to Campbell's clients. The public may also rent it for a fee schedule that LaPlante is still working on.

"This is very new," he said.

Podcasters may also pay to use podcasting equipment if they don't have their own.

Campbell also offers producing packages that include studio space.

Filling a niche

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
James LaPlante at SoPoCo.Works in March. The coworking space opened in May and has already expanded.

Campbell, who recently moved to Maine from Florida, with a stopover in Colorado, has been producing podcasts as a side gig for six years.

While podcasting has become much more popular, "It's really just getting going," he said. "Businesses are just beginning to get how they can use them."

While there are many amateur Maine podcasters who do shows focused on niche interests like movies, true crime,, beer, as well as those produced by news or information organizations, LaPlante and Campbell say use as a business marketing tool is just beginning to gain momentum.

Among those on the forefront are Portland law firm Verrill Dana, which last year launched "Verrill Voices," which features its clients. Nancy Marshall, of Marshall Communications, this month launched "PR Maven Podcast," which highlights Maine's industry and business leaders and other Maine business trends.

Campbell hopes to launch a new weekly podcast, "Portland Speaks," by the end of the year. The show will feature stories of regular Mainers, and potential interviewees can apply at the podcast's website.

LaPlante said, as an animation producer, and with the number of members who produce video, the addition of a podcast studio had been forming. When Campbell recently became a member, "it just kind of clicked."

The bottom line is that adding the studio came from the same place opening the coworking center did, he said.

"The goal is to fill a niche," he said.

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