CASPER — Just across the North Platte River on the northwest side of town in the old newspaper building, a Wyoming version of Fort Knox is being born.
Cement trucks are going in and out, workmen are busy placing rebar, and on the other side of the building parts for a state-of-the-art world-class secure vault are waiting to be assembled. When work is done, the building will have gun ports and cameras at many angles to meet the security expectations of a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy.
Welcome to the Scottsdale Mint, which is in phase two of a nine-phase plan to turn the former Casper Star-Tribune building into a world-class gold and silver production facility.
President and CEO Josh Phair said operations began last summer, and by the end of this year between 50 and 100 people will be working to create precious metal rounds, bars, official national coins and more.
Producing Legal Tender
And that’s why all the expense and work is being put into turning the mint into the city’s most secure place.
“We produce for more than 20 foreign governments and central banks,” he said. “So, we are actually producing legal tender right here in Casper, Wyoming, and ship it all around the world.”
Despite the construction, rooms for melting equipment, tool-and-die operations, stamping, offices and two working vaults are in place and filled with people. An armed guard scans people going in and out. After more than 20 years operating out of Scottsdale, Arizona, Phair said Scottsdale Mint operations will be centered in Casper.
With the shaky world economy, wars in the Ukraine and Middle East, and a divided market where the dollar is being undermined as the world’s reserve currency, demand for Scottsdale’s products have been booming.
That boom started in 2020, during the pandemic.
Phair said the company he began out of his guest bedroom in 2008 and expanded in 2011, then needed to grow again from the two buildings the mint had in Scottsdale. Californians had moved into the Phoenix region and there were no commercial buildings available to expand into less than an hour away.
Sell Or Expand?
He was also getting requests from people who wanted to by the company, and Phair spent some time deciding what he would do.
“I had to make a decision. Do I sell it, or take it to the next level?” He said.
He settled on the latter and started looking for where the company could relocate. Initial searches had him looking beyond the nation’s borders to “free port” areas in Switzerland and Panama that would allow the company to accomplish its international role with some advantages.
The he turned his eyes to elsewhere in the U.S. to states with pro-business laws and “sound money” practices. He learned Wyoming ranked at the top, and that the state passed a legal tender bill a few years ago.
“I wouldn’t be here if that law wasn’t passed,” he said.
Once he toured the former newspaper building, Phair said he knew it would be the mint’s new home, but there would be work to do. Phair said they basically gutted the building and have installed new plumbing, electrical work and air handling systems.
There is a 30-by-30-by-15-foot vault with the more than a foot-thick door that now holds some gold and silver items, but there are bigger plans for it in the near future.
“What you are looking at here is the highest rated vault in the world that you can get,” Phair said. “The class three vault is built for billions of dollars. It will be for high-net-worth people who want to put valuables away, also for business-to-business (valuables) and sovereign wealth.”
In a separate vault for production items, Phair shows coins minted for Samoa, Fiji and the Cayman Islands. One coin has the likeness of the late Queen Elizabeth of England.
“We’ve had projects personally signed off by Queen Elizabeth,” he said. “We did a coin a few years ago for Gibraltar. It was the Royal Arms of England (and) … it went to Buckingham Palace for her to sign off on.”
In addition to his work for governments, the mint produces several artistic rounds sought by collectors, as well as gold and silver art pieces. Future plans call for jewelry to be added to the company’s product list.
The Cowboy Round
One hot seller is a cowboy round. That came as an idea to honor the company’s past and future.
“We have a cowboy round that we launched this year, and we have sold more than the state of Wyoming’s population in the last six months,” he said. “The city of Scottsdale has a bucking bronco on the city emblem, and obviously Wyoming has a lot of cowboys on the license plates.”
The company designed the three-dimensional image in-house and included the rays from Arizona’s state flag as part of the design. It added a buffalo as a small “privy” mark on the bottom right of the round’s front.
Phair said depending on the particular job and design of the coin or bar, the company makes as little as $1 on the “transactional spread.”
“On gold, it could be as thin as $1 an ounce, which is nothing,” he said of the profit margins. “If it is something much more elaborate it could be more than $100.”
A lot of the work involves volume.
“One customer alone in the past six weeks we probably did $80 million in gold,” he said.
Some of the Scottsdale Mint’s gold bars use color in their design. The mint employs artists, engineers and others to get creations from an idea to the shipping room. A typical project would take six months before production begins, Phair said.
Son Of A Pastor
The 44-year-old Phair was born in South Dakota and raised there and in Florida. His father was a pastor. After college in 2022, he arrived in the Phoenix area to do risk management.
“When I was 24 years old, I landed a $4 billion gold mining company out of Reno and I started handling the insurance and risk management for about a dozen publicly traded mining companies. So I was in Denver, Coeur D’Lane, and Phoenix handling copper, silver, and gold producers and fell in love with minerals,” he said.
In the bullion business, he saw an opportunity for a high-quality brand. After starting his business in a guest bedroom, he learned that the company using precious metals to make screen material for Apple iPads wanted to sell its manufacturing operation.
“So, I bought the division, and moved it out of Albuquerque to Scottsdale,” he said, emphasizing that success did not happen overnight, but the company has worked to fulfill its motto to be “the most distinguished name in bullion.”
Phair defers questions about the value of the company. It’s privately held and he points to his customers and the company’s reputation in the world for its value.
“I like to say we do billions. Numbers sometimes get really big in our industry,” he said. “I would say we are among the top five mints in the world. I don’t think there is another mint that mints for more countries than us.”
President And ‘Conductor’
As president of the company, he likens his role to a conductor of an orchestra and calls the company a mix of science, engineering and art.
“I’ve got an artistic bone. I can’t hum, I can’t draw, but I know what looks good,” he said. “I think that has played a role in building the brand. And I love to find brilliance. I couldn’t do this without the staff of people from the top to the bottom of the organization.”
There are a lot of future plans for the business in Casper, one that involves the big vault and new company based out of the mint location. When the building is completed, Phair envisions a gallery for art, and a place for digital investments that are tied to a value of something tangible in the vault.
He hopes to take advantage of Natrona County’s free trade zone status and appreciates the fact he, his wife and two children are now living in the center of Wyoming.
Because the company does so much international business, he frequently travels the world and has been to Europe, Dubai, Singapore and the Caymans, as well as many other small island designations.
“I like coming back to Casper,” he said. “There is something about the community here that is special.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.