WRITTEN BY MIKE PIEKARSKI | PHOTOS BY MEGAN HAGGERTY
Like a wildfire, when COVID-19 struck U.S. shores a few years ago, it swept through the population and laid waste to untold numbers of businesses, forcing the shuttering and disuse of myriad companies nationwide.
Migrate America, a Saratoga Springs-based business hub and services provider, was not spared the effects of the pandemic. Though it had established its presence on Putnam Street years earlier, the company had not gained a local foothold before COVID struck. And when the pandemic hit, many people either were barred from working in office settings or chose not to—a decision that wreaked havoc on the business hub model.
“Because of COVID, the business environment collapsed, and everybody had economic issues,” says Migrate America owner and CEO, Robert Starbuck, whose company leases office space to parties not inclined to set up their own facilities. Though Migrate America, also known as Migrate, is the official company name, the real estate property management and shared office space portion of it is known by its brand name: The Business Hub.
According to Starbuck, The Business Hub had a 90 percent occupancy rate before the pandemic, which dropped to about 30 percent during the height of the COVID scare. But over the past few years, the company’s occupancy rate has climbed back up to 85 percent.
“We’re reemerging out of the ashes,” says Starbuck, 61. “People want to come back to an office. They’re tired of working from home.”
And as such, that means his company is relevant again. On the Putnam Street site, 35 fully furnished offices are available on short-term, flexible leases. “Members” include both companies and individuals: law firms, consultants, IT companies, and real estate enterprises, to name just a few.
A typical client, Starbuck says, “can work at home, or he could have an office. A lot of times, people need that real estate—they want that office.”
If a client opts for the latter, “The Hub” can provide a front-office setup, meeting rooms, common areas that include printer availability and a kitchen, and other perks.
The company’s physical features, however, are only part of
“Our core,” Starbuck says, “is basic business administration, and every organization needs some form of business administration, whether it’s a big company or not. We focus on that.”
Outsourcing that administration—including human resources, accounting, paralegal, bookkeeping, and other services—is the other part of the equation, all of which falls under the Migrate brand.
“Outsourcing is now becoming a very powerful tool, especially with professionals,” says Starbuck. “We’re catching both the corporate office rebound and the outsourcing demand. Basically, [a client] can take their entire [scope] of business—all their accounting and operations—and outsource it. Instead of them hiring an accountant and then a paralegal, they can just come to one company and get all their business support needs.”
Members “don’t want to have to do [all the necessary business tasks] themselves,” Starbuck says. At the Business Hub, “They have a shared printer, a front office, a shared common area, but they also have their own office. If they need bookkeeping, they need corporate filing, sales support, administrative support, they have it.”
As an example, Starbuck says, “a professional lawyer [can come to us and say], ‘All I want to do is be a lawyer. Take care of everything [for me]. Show me where my office is; show me my meeting room when I need a meeting room. And I need somebody to be my front office. Will you do my bookkeeping, will you do my HR payroll, will you control my administration [needs]?’”
At the Putnam Street site, the answer to all those questions is “yes.”
Without worrying about overhead or other recurring business expenses, members can enjoy what Starbuck calls “the amenities and the flexibility of a shared corporate-experience complex and a corporate operating platform.”
In his previous jobs—all overseas—Starbuck worked in Hong Kong, London, Zurich, and the Middle East for large companies seeking to establish business footholds in far-flung locations. One of those jobs was for the Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. (“Swiss Re”), the largest reinsurance company in the world.
In America, he says, “our focus is on large companies that act like an SME [small- to midsize enterprise]—what I call SME-like. We have clients that are small branches of very large companies. We focus on [individuals or small groups of people] who work for very large companies but want to be on their own—not the startup coffee shop, or the incubator, or tech-hub startups.”
The company name’s origin goes back to 2008. Starbuck, who graduated from Harvard in 1984 with an economics degree, had just left a large industry that had continually hired him to expand or redo businesses overseas. In his field, the hiring companies “needed advice on how to [set up operations in a foreign location], they needed a place, and they needed an operating platform.”
“I realized, ‘I’m really a hired gun to come in and fix something,’ so I decided to set up my own company.” Regarding the name, Starbuck explained, “I wanted it to be a verb—an action—and because it was about expanding business and going to locations and helping them, I analyzed it, and [I thought of] ‘migratory’—[as in] migratory birds. They go—they never leave home—but they go, and they come back. It’s all about migrating a business. It’s about going to other places but not losing your home headquarters—not transferring, but expanding, to other places. And also migrating to new operating platforms.”
When his previous job in the Middle East concluded last year, he returned to America “for good.” Soon after, Starbuck took over the reins of Migrate in Saratoga, where he had opened up a branch years earlier. Though he had worked overseas almost exclusively since entering the workforce, Starbuck, who lives in Grand Isle, Vermont, enjoyed his occasional visits to Saratoga when he would fly into New York City on business. He bought the lease to the Putnam Street location in 2016.
“It was a perfect location,” Starbuck says. “It’s a nice, well-focused, professional business community. I wanted [the U.S. branch of the company in] Middle America. I didn’t want it in the big cities. The goal is to stabilize the American model as a standalone, then put in all of the services locally.”
Currently, the local branch has five full-time employees, though Starbuck envisions having a staff of 20 by the middle of 2024.
“Ninety percent of the business I was doing was international,” he says. “We’re now shifting [the focus], saying, ‘Let’s take this flagship that’s here in Saratoga and do something with it.’”
Starbuck, never one to think small, has big plans.
“We’re solidifying the Saratoga operation, and then we’re installing the franchising model, and then we’re going to be franchising from Saratoga out to other parts of the country.”
In other words, Starbuck believes his company will catch fire once again.