Middletown-based Mortgage Lenders Network USA plans to move to this new Wallingford facility in 2007.

At most companies, lounging on the grass outside the office or sipping cappuccino in the lobby isn’t a sign of productivity. But when Mortgage Lenders Network USA completes its new facility in Wallingford, the hope is that such behavior will actually increase productivity.

The national mortgage company, which provides both subprime and prime mortgages and services loans for other banks, is based in Middletown, but will move to Wallingford when the new building is finished in 2007. And the concept for the new space is rather unconventional.

Instead of a typical office, with workers spending the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at their desks, Mortgage Lenders will encourage employees to do their work outside or in a common room. The new facility – which is estimated to cost $35 million – will be almost entirely wireless, with employees each having a laptop, to which their phone number will be wirelessly routed.

“What we’re trying to do is something very different,” said Jim Smith, the company’s corporate facilities director.

So executives will encourage employees to take advantage of the flexibility in the hope that it will make work more fun and help the company recruit and retain good employees.

“The company’s really built around the people,” Smith said.

And Smith hopes that, if work is fun, employees won’t be apt to run out of the office at 5 p.m. on the dot, but might stay a little longer sometimes, which could increase the company’s productivity.

‘The Ideal Location’

Mortgage Lenders Network was founded Middletown in 1997 with seven employees and 1,200 square feet of office space, according to Smith. Because the company started with subprime lending, it grew quickly and was able to diversify its services – something that gives the company stability even in times of uncertainty about interest rates. And the specialization in originating and servicing Alt-A/Non-conforming mortgages and home equity loans gives the company an edge, Smith said.

“We’re kind of the FedEx model Â… beating everybody else with new products,” he said.

Now, the company has 1,100 employees, about 600 of whom are based in Connecticut, and it has committed to hired 1,000 new employees in the next eight years.

The architect of the new building has called it “anti-corporate,” an adjective that fits the new facility to a T, according to Smith. It will be a 2-story, glass-walled edifice, rather than a typical tall, skinny building. The company’s executives hope it will create an environment where employees are pushed together and become friendly, rather than in most corporations, where employees are either stacked up or are in a number of different buildings.

“We really want people to bang into one another,” Smith said.

The entryway will not be a typical lobby, but instead will have the feel of a coffee shop, where employees can sit with customers or do their work. The colors in the entryway also will be easy to change, with special lights, carpets and plantscapes.

The corporate headquarters also will have room for amenities like dry cleaners, and the company is exploring the idea of buying five or six hybrid cars that employees can use like taxis for errands such as trips into town to get lunch. The company hopes that will encourage employees to leave their cars at home.

The building also will be environmentally friendly.

“It’s going to be as ‘green’ as we can make it,” Smith said.

Mortgage Lenders Network looked into fuel cell power, but the payback on that proved to be too long. However, the abundance of natural light will help cut down on energy use, and the company is shopping for environmentally friendly furniture.

“This building is going to be very light, very airy,” Smith said.

Also on the property will be a building called the Founders Cottage. Plans for the building are not yet concrete, but Smith said it will be a New England-style farmhouse that can be used for private meetings.

Although the company is currently based in Connecticut, executives explored options outside of the state before settling on Wallingford; for instance, Holyoke, Mass., was also a possibility. But in the end, Wallingford offered the amenities the company was looking for, Smith said. Proximity to colleges and universities was important for recruitment purposes, and a location where current employees could easily commute was also a factor. Cost of land and financial incentives from the state and town also contributed to the decision, according to company Chief Executive Officer Mitch Heffernan.

“Wallingford is the ideal location for us to grow our business and firmly establish ourselves for the future,” Heffernan said in a prepared statement. “The state of Connecticut and town of Wallingford have shown a great amount of commitment to this project. They saw the potential and strength of our company and what it can bring to the region.”

The new facility will be near the intersection of Interstate 91 and Route 68. The site can accommodate the new 180,000-square-foot building and will also provide an opportunity to expand to 300,000 square feet in the future.

Mortgage Lenders Network is also pushing the state to make the Springfield-New Haven rail line more of a commuter rail than Amtrak-based line.

The company hired Workstage, a subsidiary of Steelcase and The Gale Company, to design, develop and construct the new facility.