Goodwill Hunting

Goodwill Hunting

The Airpark is a hub for professional services providing “intangible assets” like knowledge and expertise. But how do you find services that, by definition, are virtually invisible?

By Jimmy Magahern


As part of the commercial real estate team charged with finding a new occupant for the distinctive Henkel headquarters building in North Scottsdale, CBRE senior associate Will Mast has plenty of persuasive selling points in his arsenal.

First, of course, there’s the building itself: a 368,000 square-foot eye-grabber along the Loop 101 at Scottsdale Road that renowned Phoenix architect Will Bruder conceived as a “crystalline cloud floating over a desert mesa” for the German-based consumer goods conglomerate, which last year decided to relocate its North American headquarters to Stamford, Connecticut.

“It’s got some truly unique features that you normally wouldn’t find in a single tenant building,” Mast says. “It has a three-level, 1,000-space subterranean parking garage; it is LEED-certified in terms of energy efficiency, which is important to a lot of corporations; inside the building there’s a central atrium that goes up 82 feet, letting in natural light. It’s got a combination full-service café and 500-seat auditorium that it calls its ‘cafetorium.’ And then, on the third floor of the building, there’s an acre and a half outdoor space with views of the McDowell Mountains and basically all of metro Phoenix.”

Then there’s its proximity to all of Scottsdale Airpark’s shopping destinations and upscale residential communities. “It’s close to Kierland Commons, Scottsdale Quarter and Scottsdale Promenade, which appeals to the live-work-play preferences of the Millennial workforce,” Mast notes. “You’ve got the North Scottsdale home residential market, which is a big draw to high-level executives. And then you’re also surrounded by other big corporations — HonorHealth, Vanguard, Fender, Axon and others — which bodes well for more big business.”

A lesser-known advantage to corporations considering settling near the Airpark is its proximity to a large concentration of professional service firms, or PSFs, a broad sector which comprises a variety of occupations — from law, accounting and general management consulting to I.T. and R&D  — which provide support to other businesses.

The Airpark is a business center teeming with bankers, lawyers, techies and other professional services that represent a growing, if often overlooked, tertiary sector of the Valley’s economy. Last year, professional services jobs — engineers, architects, lawyers, accountants and consultants, as well as real estate brokers — experienced the largest year-over-year increase, at 16.8 percent, of any field, topping retail sales (12.3 percent) and tourism-related industries (10.9 percent), according to the Arizona Department of Revenue.

But because such jobs deal largely in “intangible products,” selling knowledge and expertise rather than physical goods, PSFs tend to operate almost invisibly. In North Scottsdale, in particular, there are scores of talented financial advisers, engineers and consultants working out of their homes in Silverleaf, Grayhawk and DC Ranch that no one ever sees — except for the savvy business leaders who wisely utilize their services.

“I think it is a marketing advantage to have all those professional services around here that could potentially service corporate tenants,” Mast says. “That’s not usually a hot point, but this area is a huge hub for financial and investment services. I think it’s a plus that those professional services exist in this area.”

But how do you make corporations aware of all North Scottsdale’s purveyors of intangible services that, almost by definition, operate in the economy’s ether? How do you let the next multi-national company looking for an affordable American stronghold know that Scottsdale Airpark is already staffed with enough professionals to effectively navigate the locale’s specific IT, financial and legal networks?

That’s where an expert in public relations marketing — ironically, yet another professional services field in itself — comes in.

“I think the use of home-based consultants is growing across almost every industry right now,” says Andrea Aker, CEO of Scottsdale’s Aker Ink, which specializes in marketing PSFs to other businesses. “With technology and video conferencing capabilities, it’s so easy to work around the globe, really. I have some clients whom I’ve never even met in person, and they find me through referrals or through reputation. And we have wonderful working relationships — even though it’s all done through email or over the phone.”

Aker’s team focuses much of its attention on connecting professional services firms with larger businesses that need a little help in areas their offices may not be staffed to handle themselves.

“Often when you have large companies, certain departments will work with consultants or freelancers or other small boutique businesses in their local area to support either some local initiative that they may not be able to do at their corporate offices, or else to just help them settle into the land here,” she says. “We also help local firms drive awareness of their professional services in other parts of the country.”

Aker’s company has done just that for Airpark-based PSF Redirect Health, helping the innovative healthcare solutions provider expand from Arizona to 21 other states, using marketing in trade publications to grow awareness and goodwill beyond its home base. Other Airpark PSFs, like boutique I.T. consulting company Paradigm Technology, have grown by partnering with other businesses in the cloud. The Scottsdale-based firm now operates a regional office in Chicago.

“Arizona is known for its small business climate, but a lot of the small businesses here have a huge reach and they’re just as capable of performing services on par with companies in New York or L.A. or Chicago,” Aker says. “It really comes down to the people you’re working with, and not necessarily the overhead or the size of the organization.”

As a professional services provider herself, Aker says she learns about other PSFs through referrals from existing and previous clients, and from other people on her team.

“I think a lot of it is relationship based and word-of-mouth. It’s really important to be involved in the community.”

Could the Airpark have enough professional services providers scattered around its community to fill a building like the Henkel headquarters? Consolidating the area’s leading accountants, engineers, lawyers, IT specialists and management consultants into a kind of mini-mall of intangible assets would be a stunt that could put the Airpark on the map as a leader in talented human capital — and possibly help the state ride the wave of investor interest in companies that deal in data rather than in manufactured goods, which some economists view as the true future of American trade.

For the team at CBRE, filling the Henkel building with professional services firms is an option Mast admits might be worth considering — “Obviously there are a lot of financial and investment services in this area,” he says, “so we’ll definitely have a lot of interest from those groups” — although they’re clearly focused on bigger fish.

“There’s been a lot of interest on the biotech side and the education side, as well as from companies wanting to set up medical offices or a data center,” Mast emphasizes. “This building has true office and R&D space, so it can accommodate multiple uses very easily, which is very unique. So we’re casting a very wide net across the country and around the world looking for the best new buyer.”

Still, with manufacturing today accounting for only 8.5 percent of total U.S. employment and economists looking toward exportable services like scientific research, finance, insurance and I.T. engineering as the fields where the country has a true advantage, it might be time to establish the Airpark as a desert mecca of professional services.

“This is where a lot of those businesses end up,” Mast observes. “And I also think that’s how these service hubs build. They like to be around other professional services; they all seem to congregate around each other.”

Who knows? If the Airpark is ready for its own SkySong of knowledge economy leaders, it couldn’t do better than Bruder’s “crystalline cloud.”