Real estate investing can be a complicated topic, especially for the uninitiated. Explaining it is what keeps Chris Daugaard excited about his role. “What I really like about working with investors is taking what can be a complex or uncommon topic like development or finance and trying to describe it to people who don’t do this as a day-to-day job,” said Daugaard, a partner in Ernst Capital Group. “I don’t come from a real estate background. I’m not a deep finance guy. So it’s fun for me to explain things how I relate them and have people get as excited about our projects as I do.”
It’s an exciting time for Daugaard, personally and professionally. He and his wife, Emily, recently welcomed their first son, James. At Ernst, activity is so busy his days are filled with project and investor communication. Luckily, he has found a way to balance both, as one of his favorite activities is driving around the community with his son napping in the backseat. “I drive around town for a couple hours seeing projects going on and what’s going up while he catches a nap,” Daugaard said. “I really enjoy seeing the communities we are working in develop and being part of it.”
It was a bit of an unlikely career path for the Dell Rapids High School graduate who grew up thinking he might become an electrical engineer and went to SDSU with that in mind. “I was going to go somewhere in state because that’s what I could afford, and I was paying my own way,” he said. “I liked technology – still do – science and math, so that had me looking at School of Mines and SDSU, and I chose SDSU because I wanted to play in the drum line for marching band.” His academic direction changed after a year when he pursued economics and political science instead, ultimately graduating with a political science major and minors in business and economics. “I graduated a semester earlier than planned to help my dad campaign, and the plan was to go to business school,” Daugaard said.
One of three children of Dennis and Linda Daugaard, he had grown up around his father’s career in the South Dakota Legislature. In 2010, Dennis Daugaard was elected governor of South Dakota. But here’s a perhaps little-known fact about the family: Chris Daugaard also has a history of top elected office. He served as student body president both in high school and at SDSU. “And before I worked on my dad’s campaign, if you’d asked me whether I would consider running for office someday, the answer probably would have been yes,” he said. “With today’s political climate, it’s harder to say.”
His first job, as an analyst for the Public Utilities Commission, was in state government but was focused on policy and technology and less on politics. “I was able to work with the state’s telecom industry but also on wireless service, broadband and renewable energy. I really enjoyed that.” After getting married, Daugaard’s career took him to Sioux Falls, where he worked first as a business analyst and then in the corporate organizational development group at Raven Industries. “I really enjoyed my time there and had planned for it to be my career when I unexpectedly learned Ernst Capital was looking for someone to be an analyst, working on their portfolio and entities in addition to working with investors to raise capital for new investments,” he said. “So I looked at it as an opportunity to do something different and still do analysis while also helping our area communities grow and develop.”
He joined the firm in 2014 and was made a partner three years later. “My day-to-day involves visiting with our current investors as there is always something new going on with our portfolio and something to look forward to, but also meeting with people who aren’t as familiar with Ernst or who are looking to participate in the growth of the region – as an investor, developer or interested community member.” He also oversees the firm’s marketing and communications, and works personally with a few hundred investors.
Ernst generally looks to invest within a 400-to-600-mile radius of Sioux Falls. “We’re happy to be here and looking to grow within the region,” Daugaard said. “We’re working with people who are fun and rewarding to do business with – that’s the type of relationship we’re looking for both from an investor and a partnership standpoint.”
For fun, you’ll likely find him and his family downtown listening to music or checking out a new eatery. “And I like to golf, and my dad and I do a river canoeing backpacking trip every year,” he said. “I’m just very glad to be in South Dakota, doing what I’m doing and growing here personally and professionally. We’re very fortunate to live and work in this part of the world.”