Monday, April 02, 2007

Final Four Scoreboard

When you watch the Final Four tip-off tonight, look behind the ref with the ball at the name of the scoreboard being used at center court in the Georgia Dome. It says Daktronics on it and the company’s newest manufacturing plant is in Redwood Falls, MN (population 5,459). I was there last week, touring the town and doing a talk.

Daktronics started up production in Redwood Falls earlier this year with 100 employees. They took over the plant of a power supply maker which had once won the Malcolm Baldridge award but which closed up shop last year. Daktronics installed millions in new equipment and shipped their first product at the end of February.

Another company, RVI (Rural Values and Integrity), started up earlier this year as a spin-off from the original company. They do power supply repairs for many of the high tech companies, starting with 43 employees and hoping to grow.

Daktronics is one of my favorite companies. Dr. Kurtenbach and Dr. Duane Sander were professors of electrical engineering at South Dakota State University who were frustrated at the lack of local job opportunities in Brookings, SD. The two professors started out trying to manufacture medical devices but weren’t able to afford the insurance nor to outlast the lead time-to-market for such products. They switched to scoreboards when the SDSU wrestling coach complained to them of the need for a wrestling scoreboard.

Dr. Kurtenbach told me last year, “When people become rich, they tend to give things away. We in South Dakota must be some of the richest in the country, because we keep giving away the great minds of our young people. The saddest day of the year for me is graduation day at South Dakota State University, when I see $2 million in lifetime payrolls walking across the stage to get their diplomas, and then moving out of state.”

Daktronics is striving to slow that out flow. Today, 2,900 Daktronics’ employees in SD and MN ship products all over the world, more than 100 countries at last count. Their scoreboards are in most professional stadiums, sales exceed $300 million per year and they are still located in Brookings, SD.

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