After eight years operating Divine Destinations travel agency from her Cloquet home, Jennifer Maki was ready for a traditional office.

“I’ve always thought it would be important to have an office,” said Maki, who has clients in Duluth as well as Cloquet. “This isn’t something I do from my coffee table. I have an office set up in my home as well. But it’s time to expand. It definitely came to the point to be able to network and integrate into the business community.”

She considered renting a storefront or buying a building. But renting meant also paying for utilities. And owning a building meant shoveling snow in winter and dealing with repairs and maintenance year-round.

Instead, Maki is among the first to sign up for space in the new Regus business center opening today in the Wells Fargo building at 230 W. Superior St. in downtown Duluth. The center - one of 400 in the United States and the first in northern Minnesota - offers small, furnished offices for one-person operations and team spaces for up to four people. Along with it comes the services of a receptionist to greet clients, take calls and sort mail.

The center fills the entire 11,024-square-foot fourth floor that previously housed a call center. Buildout began in early February with the space gutted. It has since been transformed and reconfigured into a labyrinth of 60 small, modern offices anchored by shared reception area, business lounge and kitchen.

Offices can be rented for an hour, a day or up to a year or more. In their travels, tenants can use services at other Regus centers around the world. In Duluth, a boardroom also can be rented for videoconferencing and other meetings.

A professional setting

While Regus centers are used by some large companies for meetings, temporary offices and to conduct interviews, it’s ideal for small-business owners like Maki who are working from home and ready for the next step, said Julie Huebner, Regus’ general manager in Duluth.

“There comes a time when they need a level of professionalism, not to mention getting away from all the distractions at home,” she said.

Both Huebner and region manager Jeff Bowron noted labor projections that put 40 percent of the workforce to be freelancers, independent consultants and entrepreneurs within the next decade.

In Regus’ professional setting, customers can network and be among other like-modeled businesses, Bowron said.

“They can hit the ground running, be focused on their business and not on the physical needs of an office,” he said.

Huebner echoed his thoughts.

“It’s built for getting work done,” she said. “The whole idea is to keep your focus on your business, not on the utilities or hanging a white board.”

Monthly rents start at $350, Bowron said. That includes utilities and cleaning services. The center also can be used as a virtual office or just as a mailing address for $79 per month, he said.

Maki said she will pay $500 a month for her office and plans to use the center’s high-speed Internet service. She’s keeping her home office in Cloquet and will divide her time between the two locations.

”I’m super excited; it will help me to connect better with my target market,” said Maki, who wants to  tap into the downtown business community. “It will basically give me double exposure and opportunity to meet with clients in a location best for them.”

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Regus, which has 3,000 locations worldwide, started in Europe in the late 1980s. It entered the in the early 2000s. With a strong presence in the Twin Cities, it is expanding to secondary cities in the region. It has a center in Sioux Falls, S.D. After Duluth, it will open locations in Fargo, N.D., St. Cloud, and Mankato, Minn., in the next three months.

Regus wanted to open a center in Duluth because it’s a significant economic hub in Northeastern Minnesota. Moreover, business people are being drawn to Duluth because of its business climate and quality of life, Huebner said.

But the city lacks enough small office space for startups that Regus provides, she said. Some single office executive suites at the Duluth Technology Village are among those available.

“We looked for years for the right location,” Bowron said. “We’ve been working on it since 2013. So it’s a long time coming.”

He declined to say how much Regus is investing in establishing the new Duluth center.

“I can say it’s a significant investment, not only to build out, but in furniture accoutrements,” he said.

It’s no accident that the center is in a Class A office building in the heart of Duluth’s downtown business district.

“When we look at a market, we want to be in the heart of it,” Bowron said. “We want to be where the business community is, where our customers want us to be.”

In time, tenants may do so well that they outgrow their Regus office and need their own space. But he said that’s what the Regus model is all about.

“That means we’ve been successful,” he said.

The Duluth Regus center can be reached at (218) 491-6500.