Tech company finds new home in ZEN

Exterior of the new ZEN building, on right, under construction at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 in Albany, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union) Photo: Lori

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One attribute of the new Zero Energy Nanotechnology building under construction at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany is the panoramic view.

With a massive central atrium, a dome that lets light in from above, and a glass facade, the 360,000-square-foot ZEN building is unique among the city's buildings.

The spectacular views bring energy and color in off the street — one of the reasons the Albany-based CommerceHub software company recently signed a long-term lease for the top floor of the building. It will occupy 50,000 square feet of office space that includes a rarity for the Albany NanoTech campus — a balcony.

CommerceHub is one of the most successful Capital Region startups over the past 20 years, but few people in the area know it by name.

If you shop online, you probably have come in contact with the company. Founded in 1997 by Frank Poore after he earned an MBA from the University at Albany, CommerceHub sells software that manages online orders for retailers like Wal-Mart and BestBuy, sending them to more than 7,500 third-party suppliers throughout North America.

In 2013, CommerceHub routed 44 million online orders, with the company making money on each purchase. And although the company doesn't reveal its own revenues, the suppliers, distributors and manufacturers that use the CommerceHub system made $7 billion last year fulfilling orders for the retailers that CommerceHub represents.

That includes $450 million by companies with operations in New York state.

"We're like a Silicon Valley company right here in Albany," said Poore. He and SUNY

Poly CEO Alain Kaloyeros late last week took the Times Union on a tour of ZEN, which is still under construction.

The $191 million project is being overseen by the construction firm Whiting-Turner and is on track to be completed next year. In addition to the state's new data center, the building will house many of the clean energy programs at SUNY Poly and its Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It will also be a living laboratory and the largest "zero-energy" building in the world that generates more on-site power than it consumes.

CommerceHub is now owned by Liberty Media, a $1 billion Denver, Colo.-based media conglomerate that also owns QVC, SiriusXM, the Atlanta Braves and has minority shares in Time Warner Cable, and Viacom among others.

Because of the size of Liberty Media, Poore could have moved CommerceHub's 210 employees anywhere in the country when he was looking for a new headquarters this year. His workers are currently housed in 25,000 square feet of space at SUNY Poly's NanoFab South building and in a smaller office in Clifton Park (the company was originally located in the CESTM building at the SUNY Poly campus).

But Poore says that when top Liberty Media executives came to Albany and saw what was going on at SUNY Poly, they endorsed the move into ZEN. The company is planning to add at least 60 new employees over the next five years as part of its participation in the state's START-UP NY program. But the company's growth could end up being much greater than that.

"They could have moved anywhere," said Kaloyeros. "To anchor them here is key."

Category: Construction

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