Korea has seen an increase in the number of shrinking cities, resulting from population loss, economic downturn, employment decline, and social problems. Policy responses have been aimed at promoting entrepreneurial environments by creating the hard infrastructure specifically designed to support the appropriate soft infrastructure.
Developing coworking spaces for young entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers is one of these policy responses.
In order to understand the roles of coworking spaces in these shrinking cities, a five-month study (October 2021 - February 2022) of coworking spaces in twelve small and medium-sized cities was conducted using two interrelated methods: 1) an online survey of users of coworking spaces in their 20s and 30s and 2) semi-structured interviews with managing staff/owners of coworking spaces. This paper concludes that coworking spaces in small and medium-sized cities play the following roles: 1) ‘hard and soft infrastructure providers’ that provide hard infrastructure, including office spaces, service facilities and office supplies, while simultaneously acting as third-party locations offering emotional and professional support in a friendly environment, 2) ‘local contact points’ where both newcomers and local residents can meet and develop business opportunities, 3) ‘knowledge and cultural disseminators’ that offer services related to education, business tutoring, training, culture, art, and leisure, and 4) ‘creative hubs’ that attract young, talented, knowledge workers who together develop further creative clusters, which in turn brings about an increase in the local population, local jobs, improved standards of living, and revitalized local areas.