As the e-Bay auction for the H.A. Hagg school building in Clarkfield came to a close on April 11, Einar Agustsson was kicking himself. At the last second his $70,411.11 bid for the 144,000 sq. ft. facility had been upped by $100, and it appeared that he had missed out on the opportunity to acquire the building he viewed as perfect for his needs.
“As I was going to bed I was thinking that there isn’t any person in the world who could have used that building better than me,” he recalled lamenting.
Although Agustsson would go to sleep that evening with his head in the doldrums, come morning fate would remind him of the difference a good night’s rest can make. A financial issue with the winning bidder had kept the sale from going through, an email informed him. He had been given another opportunity to purchase H.A. Hagg. One he would seize.
Ever since the Yellow Medicine East School District elected to shutter and sell the H.A. Hagg school building as a cost cutting measure in 2008, residents of the Clarkfield community have anxiously awaited developments that would determine the ongoing existence of the facility. In Einar Agustsson, locals have received their answer. And at first glance it appears H.A. Hagg has a lot of living left do.
“The EDA is extremely happy to have somebody purchase the school that plans to take care of it and create jobs,” said Clarkfield EDA Director Gene Wenstrom. “We’re going to continue to work with him and help him if he asks for it. We’re just happy he’s here.”
A 31-year-old native of Reykjavik, Iceland, Agustsson is the founder and CEO of Skajaquoda, a corporation that seeks to be a global leader in socially responsible sustainable investments and projects, according to the company website.
Agustsson first established Skajaquoda in 2003. Since then it has become the umbrella organization under which all company subsidiaries and investments have been allocated. Skajaquoda is considered an investment firm, traded on the OTC (ticker: SKAJ). The former H.A. Hagg building has effectively become its new company headquarters.
Iceland to Clarkfield
If there were an appropriate starting point on the path that has led Agustsson from Iceland to Clarkfield, it might have started with the 2008 collapse of Iceland’s economy.
Following the crash, Agustsson said that Iceland became a poor economic landscape for a startup business, particularly given his line of work. “They established currency controls,” he noted, “which for an investment company is impossible.”
In search of greener pastures, Agustsson would spend a year in London, England before setting up shop in the United States amongst Delaware’s favorable legal environment for startups. Here, he would be headquartered for three years before electing to relocate the company to Clarkfield. He noted that the move was inspired by Minnesota’s favorable R&D environment, and that in H.A. Hagg he had found the perfect building within an ideally sized and safe setting that boasts good schools.
Page 2 of 3 - “It’s going to need a lot of work, but I think the school itself is a great fit,” he said. “It’s a beautiful building. I plan to take good care of it.”
Renewable energy breakthrough?
Things really get interesting when Agustsson starts talking about his vision for the Skajaquoda group, and what that means for the H.A. Hagg building going forward.
According to Agustsson, Skajaquoda will be made up both an investment and research and development division. The R&D, while a deviation from traditional businesses practices of the Iceland native, is the driving force behind the Skajaquoda Group consolidation and school purchase––and is also what has Agustsson so extremely excited.
“[Renewable energy is something I have researched on my own for many years. It is something I have a passion for,” he said. “About two years ago one of our subsidiaries had a pretty big breakthrough in renewable energy. What we’re looking to do now is to use the breakthrough to improve current renewable energy technology so that it is more efficient.”
Not wanting to jeopardize the success of the initiative’s entry into market, Agustsson was hesitant to offer even the most minute details about the nature of the technological development at this point in time.
“Because we’ve had a breakthrough that I think is important in renewable energy, I think we have a certain edge on other companies,” he said. “I think we have a real chance of creating a strong business in the field. And I think this is the place to do it.”
During the past two weeks, Agustsson has been occupying a makeshift office in the west-wing of the school where he has been busy overseeing initial building renovations and other activities associated with the transition.
Over the course of the year, he expects to staff the building with 10 local jobs, made up mostly of engineers. Eventually, Agustsson wants to have enough staff and equipment to justify use of the entirety of the facility. The majority of capital expenses are expected to derive from this equipment.
The plan, he says, is to renovate and refurbish the west-wing of the building and then slowly work their way over to the more repair-needy east side. Agustsson foresees the east wing gym being utilized as a R&D laboratory. The west wing gym will continue to be leased to Yellow Medicine East for athletic events.
While the west wing should be ready to go in the next 12 months, the east-wing is more likely two to three years away. Between years four and five, the hope is to see the product hit the market.
Page 3 of 3 - He’ll be around
Since his arrival, Agustsson has been quick to make friends and connections. This past Friday he took in the Augustana Lutheran Luncheon in Clarkfield and over the weekend traveled to Granite Falls for the CURE hosted climate and energy forum. Otherwise, a steady stream of curious locals have been wandering into the school for introductions as well.
Agustsson says that he expects to purchase a house in Clarkfield, though wouldn’t necessarily say that he is making it his primary residence. His wife Soley and their two sons, Agust (5) and Kristofer (1), are presently in Iceland. And while the lot accompanied him to Delaware, it was suggested that the a decision involving their long-term living situation had yet to be made.
To ease the pain of time and distance, Agustsson confers with his wife and children over the internet a few times a day via Skype. Regardless of their location, he says that you can expect his presence in Clarkfield consistently.