ROX Interview: Jackob Andersen

President & CEO, Saint Holdings, LLC

Interview by Rock Earle

I first met Jackob Andersen sometime in the early 2000s, introduced by a contractor partner, Tim Smith. He and I were in the final stages of our ownership (and redevelopment) of Eloy Industrial Park things were popping and everything was rosy.

The purpose of the introduction was to acquaint me with a new civil engineering firm that had been recently formed by Jackob and was looking for projects in the Casa Grande area.

Fast forward a couple of years: Eloy Industrial Park had sold, the Great Recession had begun, and I was off traveling, but Tim had taken his expertise in rail-served industrial development to Jackob, and along with his longtime partner Joe Jarvis, they bought the 160-acre farm which would shortly become Central Arizona Commerce Park. And the rest is history, I guess, as they say.

As you will read, Jackob brought his keen eye for macro trends and his nuts-and-bolts experience in developing real estate to what we here at ROX Group like to call “Arizona’s Golden Corridor” — presciently observing that its location, coupled with land availability and infrastructure would be, in the long run, an absolute winner.

GC Living: I’m with Jackob Andersen from Saint Holdings. Start with telling us about yourself, about your family, where you grew up and went to school and such.

Jackob Andersen: I’m Danish by nationality, but I was born in the United Kingdom, and I’m the middle one of three boys. We were put into the English boarding school system, which I guess people would think is a little bit like a Hogwarts. You go to school wearing a little felt cap and a little felt blazer and shorts, with a little green tie, black shoes and socks pulled up to your knees.

You go to chapel every morning, and you have a pretty rigid system. The first school I went to was called Saint Christopher’s, which is where the name Saint Holdings came from. That’s where Joe (Jarvis) and I met when we were 4 years old in kindergarten. It’s a friendship that stretches back now 42 years, and he’s like a fourth brother to me.  

GC Living: How did you get into real estate?

Jackob Andersen: After my parents separated and moved back to Denmark, I remained in England and did a hotel and catering administration course at college. I was told by a then-girlfriend of my father that I would be excellent in real estate, so I interviewed for a real estate job. In England, you work for a company and get a car, a basic salary, a telephone, plus a commission on the deals you do. You start with some basic things that give you a leg up.

I was good at it and very quickly became the top sales guy for the then-largest private realtor group, Keith Cardale Groves. 

GC Living: What type of real estate were you pursuing — residential?

Jackob Andersen: It was mainly residential, but the residential and commercial market in London is a little bit different than here. I could be dealing with condos or a single-family house one day and a commercial ground-floor space with residential above the next day and the following day, converting a Victorian house from the 1800s into four condos. The first road in the world to be called Billionaire’s Row was in my territory, and I was one of the top producers there by the time I was in my late 20s. 

My business partner Joe was dealing with real estate too and developed the land that makes up the area to which the Heathrow express terminates in London. The area is Paddington Basin and Paddington Square and today’s phase is called Merchant Square.

GC Living: How did you meet your wife?

Jackob Andersen: My father had met his soon-to-be third wife, and they invited my brothers and I as part of the wedding to go on a cruise around the Caribbean. It was on that cruise ship in September 1999 I met my wife, Jamie. She was on a six-month sabbatical from ASU. She worked on the ship for the theatrical department as a dancer for the shows. She was a Phoenix Suns cheerleader and had danced all her life.

A month later I flew back to Miami to that very same cruise ship she was working on to explore whether or not what we thought we had was real. In April 2000 she came to England to see what I was doing. The best way for us to be together was for her to transfer from ASU to a college in England. She applied to the American Intercontinental University in Central London. I had to fly to Arizona and ask her dad’s permission to allow her to go to university in England. Luckily, he was cool with it.

Jamie’s mom and dad lived in Mesa and we were visiting regularly. Her dad was a contractor in the ‘80s with a company called Square G Electric. They are a fifth generation Arizona family, coming from Utah in the late 1800s and settled in Prescott.

 Her father started a company called GSS later in life with a couple of young lads. His name is Gosney and the “S” and “S” stand for Smith Smith, which are two brothers, Tim and Mike Smith.

 GC Living: So that is how you came to meet Tim Smith. What led you and Tim into starting the Central Arizona Commerce Park?

Jackob Andersen: Long story. Jamie has a lot of family in Arizona, and we decided to make our home in Arizona for a better quality of life and thought it would be a great place to raise our children.  

She got a job raising money for Special Olympics. I was trying to get into real estate, but everyone and their mother was in real estate at the time as the market was growing. Money was free. Everything was rocking and rolling, and no one who wanted to help anyone as they were all doing their own thing. I had to put in my time and learn the language of real estate by doing real estate.

In England, you have exchange of contracts and completion of contracts. Here, you have opening and closing of escrow. When you have the same language separated by different terminology, you need to figure it out, otherwise you look like a fool when you walk into someone’s office and start talking to them. 

I had done a lot of refurbishment of older buildings in England, and we were looking at various opportunities. 

I was introduced to Tim, who then introduced me to various brokers. Tim told me about Pinal County and what was going on with his construction company and with some international companies in Eloy and Casa Grande. At the time, the projects I was looking at where in Tempe and Phoenix and led me to meetings with quite interesting characters. 

So why Pinal County?

One of the people I met was the Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. I was sitting in his waiting room. He had five maps on the wall and those five maps were a decade of growth per map. As I looked at these maps, these red population dots were all centralizing in Pinal County. I started asking questions to people about it, and they said the people who deal with these things talk about this being one of the first metropolises in America where you have this big city of Phoenix and this big city of Tucson coming together in the middle. It just sort of went “click” for me that maybe I should look down there.

About that time, I was introduced to a friend of Tim’s, Mark Richmond, who’s still a friend today. He founded what is now the Central Arizona Commerce Park in Casa Grande. It was an alfalfa field owned by one of the well-known Casa Grande farmers. The broker on the other side was Kirk McCarville. That’s how I became such good friends with Kirk through that original transaction 15 years ago. 

GC Living: Yes. Tim and I, and some other guys, bought the old Eloy Industrial Park in the late ‘90s and spent two or three years rehabbing and shining it up and fixing this and that. We learned about the rail and the industrial aspects and that’s the knowledge Tim took over and hooked up with you, and then found that 160 acres because the rail was critical to what we did in Eloy. 

Jackob Andersen: I come from an area that was very widely using trains, and I understood goods moving on rail. We’ve got that across Europe with the rail. I saw the I-8 and I-10 corridors, the confluence of that. I saw these red dots growing on the map. I saw the international companies that Tim was building for and I went to talk to the city. The mayor at the time was Bob Jackson and city manager Jim Thompson. We clicked, and I thought this is a town I can do business in.

One of the things I thought was strange was seeing all the residential sales and the development agreements for all these blue lakes and fancy ramadas and barbecues and no one’s concentrating on the industrial and employment and job growth. To me, in that area, I thought, “Well that’s a bit of a niche market, maybe we should look into that.”

The housing market was growing and going. We thought we would attract the steel guy, the glass guy, the concrete guy, the drywall guy, the pool fence guy. So that’s kind of how we designed that whole park with Union Pacific and the potential needs at the time. And it was pretty successful. 

GC Living: You built 160 acres of finished lots with rail and everything. And yet your huge success wasn’t those smaller lots. It was the megaprojects that came in and you needed real soon to buy a lot more land and then even more than a lot more land. And that leads us to today when all these mega projects are being talked about.

Jackob Andersen: We annexed and zoned the property in Casa Grande, we learned how to convert water rights, we learned how to deal with all the utilities and roadways and fully developed what today is CAZCP — Central Arizona Commerce Park. Then, the real estate market crashed! We had quite a lot of lots in escrow and tied up in the park and then lost a lot of the buyers in the financial crash. So, we then hunkered down and said, OK, let’s park this. We kept working on infrastructure and environmental and archeological matters regionally, we worked with the city, county and neighbors on better roads and access. We stopped spending money, managed everything in-house and built relationships, but we did keep moving.

We also looked at the opportunity of larger land holdings where there would be potential for future developments in the path of growth. The idea was not empty desert but farmlands, so you’re staying true to sort of the yesteryear’s growth of Arizona and the farming creates some sort of cashflow and reduced taxes.

We quickly found out that there’s not much margin in farm leases. But the world has a need for food security, and so Joe and I went out and took on some leases and started buying a couple of pieces that led us to becoming a farming entity with about 18,000 acres in Arizona and Southern California’s Imperial Valley. 

I’m not a farmer, but with our new team we quickly learned to manage them. We put good people in place and had a staff of about 100 people, and we were picking up farms. I flew to China and the Middle East for feed and hay deals. We had bought a hay cuber in Stanfield, so I wanted to create a retail market here in the U.S. for us and was trying to get the company into Tractor Supply Company’s retail shops. They had 1,500 of them on the east side of the USA and wanted to double their presence by coming west.

One of my sales guys in the retail farming business told me there was going to be a big hay convention at Tractor Supply’s headquarters in Nashville and asked if we could get our products into their stores. 

So, I went to the convention with them to help them and spend a couple of days in Nashville. While I was there, I heard from the Arizona Commerce Authority that potentially Tractor Supply Company had the desire to come to the West Coast. I hadn’t heard of this project, and I thought that was strange.

Whilst there at the headquarters, I asked, “Do you have a real estate department?” They said, “Yes.” I said, “Can I speak to someone?” And they’re like, “Well, you’ll have to wait.” And I said, “Well, I’ll wait.” 

I also happened to have one of my brochures with me for the Central Arizona Commerce Park. I left it with the lady and said, “Get in touch with me. If you’re looking for this area, Walmart Distribution is right next to us. We’re right by the I-10, I-8. We’re ideal to service this entire region.” I got a call the following business day from the site selector who was working on their behalf and the Arizona Commerce Authority. 

I met with their site selector, and they were blown away by what we had available. It was us bringing them to the table, bringing the City of Casa Grande, Pinal County and the ACA quietly together. No one else knew about it. And we went in and we said, “This has got to happen, and it’s got to happen quickly.” Casa Grande made it happen with us. That’s how we landed Tractor Supply Company.

That helped put us on the map. I think it’s was the first Fortune 500 company to come to the area for many, many years. It showed how well we operated with the state, the county, the city and how we could get a deal done. There was a coming together, a camaraderie of all involved being formed in Pinal County with the pro-business growth attitude.

So along comes Lucid. Their site selectors are coming into town. They are talking to the ACA. We get to put in our PIF — project information form — and we tick all the boxes. That is what we worked on. That is what is so important, getting every bit of information out with all the answers and requirements met so that you get to the top of the pile, and you get that first meeting.

The ACA was phenomenal working in the background with them. But boots on the ground and introducing them to the city helped make this work. Larry Rains, Casa Grande’s current city manager, had literally been on point on everything I’ve done, and I praise him for the work he did and is doing. 

We are listening to their needs, and we quickly realize workforce is super important.

Today, I sit on the board for Arizona@Work in Pinal County. It’s helpful for the board to know about the jobs we’re creating and what we’re seeing for needs. Jackie Elliot had recently taken over as the president at Central Arizona College. One of the guys from the Lucid team was their point man. If he was going to have a workforce, if he was going to be running the factory, it was going to be on his head that everything was going to be set up. 

So, I introduced this individual to Jackie. She has such a great operation and such an enthusiastic attitude. She was very creative and immediately thought of an advanced manufacturing course that she could put together that would be beneficial to them and fits the betterment of general needs for training and education in the region. Advanced manufacturing is not just automobiles. It can be many different things. Today, that course is up and running and has been very successful for three years. It helps us attract more business and is why Pinal County is ready for business and open for opportunity.

Once we got the “yes,” they’re going to be here, they want to be here, the team pulled it together. The way the County operated with talking to Casa Grande with roads, infrastructure, foreign trade zones, Tim Kanavel seeing them through the process, us all holding hands, grabbing the ball and running with it. Once we got the ball positioned it was just incredible, it was a score. 

That leads us to how and why Nikola was so quick and so successful in their site selection and working in unity with us and all the agencies.

 GC Living: Before we get into Nikola Motors, how did the Inland Port Arizona come to be?

Jackob Andersen: As we’re doing all this with Lucid, we’re noticing the recession is hitting hard, and all the little users have gone away. But what we’re noticing is the RFPs are coming in from bigger projects, 50 acres, 80 acres, 100 acres, 300 acres. Our Casa Grande industrial park is already platted into smaller parcels. But we have this other land, the Mesa water farm, which has the big southern area, which today we call Inland Port Arizona. Today that is the Nikola Motors location. 

Our plan was to create Central Arizona Commerce Park on steroids with the rail over there. It had been looked at in the early ‘80s by Union Pacific as an inland port for them to have a shuttle service running back and forth from LA-Long Beach. But the City of Mesa purchased the property and it was taken off the market until we purchased it.

That’s how I met Darrell Wilson because he used to have a company called CMX, and they did a lot of due diligence there for another company that we inherited, all the archeological and environmental studies, all the data that we then refreshed to our own standard when we took over and took from just due diligence to actual buildable zoned, annexed park

Because of the Lucid deal and getting very familiar about electric vehicles, I got a call from someone who said, “Hey, there’s this hydrogen-electric trucking company up in Utah that may be looking for a site. You should get a hold of them.” I didn’t know where to look. I looked on YouTube and Googled them. Then I saw Trevor Milton standing on the stage with the alpha version of the truck. So, I Googled some more and found a phone number in Florida. Which turned out to be one of their media contacts. She said, “Perfect timing. You need to call this guy who’s the site selector, Tom Stringer, in New York.”

I get on the call and on comes this guy with a New York accent and I’ve got my London accent. I tell him, “You need to be on my site. I’ve got the perfect location.” He replies, “Whoa, cowboy. You sound like you’re obviously not from that area. I appreciate your attitude. I appreciate your push to get me down there. I’ve already been down there, and I’ll keep in mind. But let me just deal with what I’m dealing with.” I respected that because there’s a site selection process they go through. I didn’t hear anything and suddenly they announced the west side of metro Phoenix.

Out of the blue I get a call from Tom Stringer, “I need your help and we need to execute quickly, and there are timing issues with the area we’ve chosen. I want to be honest with you, there was a concern of ours when we first talked as the Lucid project was down there. Would the Nikola project be hindered by being close to the Lucid project in terms of workforce and competition? We were a little nervous about that. But now a couple years have passed and Lucid’s doing their thing. And we’ve seen the growth in the workforce, the capabilities in Pinal County, the transportation corridors you’re working on, everything you’ve achieved. We see you in the news, and we’ve been keeping it in the forefront of our minds as actually our best option.”

The ACA sat down with us and confirmed the need for a rescue package. They’ve got another site in another state, and we need to sort this out in 90 days. I had just booked a vacation with my wife and sons to go to France. So, I said, “Here’s the deal. I’ll get it done in 60 days for you, so that I’m not stressed out in those last 30 days while on vacation with my family — that always seems to happen …” and it did again.  It took 90 days.  I spent a lot of vacation-time pacing on the phone.

And so, we all rallied, the City of Coolidge and Pinal County and our amazing legal team at Rose Law Group. It wasn’t our first rodeo. We had done this with Lucid. We knew what it would take. We worked with Tim Kanavel and Pinal County in setting up the foreign trade zone. We worked with the college and job training. We worked with the state. And we just all put our arms around it and made it happen. 

GC Living: Perfect. How is it to work with the County government?

Jackob Andersen: The County supervisors for the last many years have created a strong, solid, cohesive staff that works well with the cities and business. Greg Stanley was a great collaborator and an incredible administrator. He kept his supervisors informed and worked well with his staff.

The people he relied on yesterday are now the leaders today. Lou Anderson, Himanshu Patel, Leo Lew, Tim Kanavel — it shows they are cohesive. There’s no infighting. They just get on and get the job done. They are a delight to work with. They get things fast-tracked quicker than other places in Arizona. They are pro-development. They’re tough and strict with the rules, do things by the book, but they get it done.

GC Living: What other projects are you involved in? I’ve seen solar, fiber optic and data distribution, not to mention alfalfa farming! (laughs)

Jackob Andersen: We had seen solar deals in the past, but they seemed to have gone away. And then suddenly out of the blue, you start getting calls about solar and the need for solar. We were trying to look at all this land. We basically took the Mesa water farm and we land-planned two bookends.  The first was about 2,800 homes off Eleven Mile Corner. The other the industrial park to create jobs. In between we land-planned the highest and best use for the future of the area. What’s still industrial? What’s still residential?

We spent about two years interviewing 50 or 60 different solar companies, individuals, brokers, land guys, trying to meander through who was who. None of them could give us a straight answer until we met some of the bigger groups such as NextEra and S-Power. Both groups we ended up doing deals with.

An added bonus to what we’ve created today is solar is not a forever use for the land, the land will come back to be developed in 25-30 years. In the meantime, the land has a use. There’s way less water being used and, of course, it’s green energy. Our County supervisors like to say, they want to be the greenest county in the USA.

And as we were working through solar and doing the developments with Nikola and Lucid, fiber suddenly becomes a question. In Pinal around our land, we have an abundance of major infrastructure that crisscrosses in our area.

We have a 640-acre corner piece at Selma and Highway 87, next to Inland Port Arizona which is a great location for a data center. The advantage with us is we can offer a 640-acre piece where they could create 50 megawatts of power to potentially sell back into the grid or serve themselves on 50% of the land and use the other 50% to build a mega data center.

GC Living: Earlier this year a new foundation was announced. Tell us about it. 

Jackob Andersen: Joe and I had talked about what can we do in the future to give back in Pinal County following further sales and successes that come. That was the extent of my conversation with Joe. In the background, he wanted to surprise me with a foundation. He worked with Jordan Rose at Rose Law Group to set it up. She announced it in February at the Pinal Partnership breakfast, then COVID-19 hit a couple of weeks later, so we’re still in the process of setting it up.