In 1968, two electrical engineering professors teaching at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., Aelred “Al” Kurtenbach and Duane Sander, co-founded a company known as Daktronics.

Throughout its history, the company that serves customers and has its products on display around the world, has thrived on innovation. From its beginning working with medical devices, voting equipment and the patented Matside® wrestling scoreboard, Daktronics has seen successes and as a company continues to grow.

That historic success, as well as its vision for the future, was celebrated recently as Daktronics as a company hit the half century mark of existence. 

One of those celebrations was held at its manufacturing plant in Redwood Falls, which has been part of the company since 2007.

Among those on hand for the celebration was Frank Kurtenbach, brother of co-founder Al Kurtenbach, who recognized the work being done at its Minnesota site.

“You are doing a great job here,” said Kurtenbach.

Kurtenbach, who retired as the company’s vice-president of sales, did not start working at Daktronics until 10 years after it opened the doors.

“I was a high-school biology teacher and a wrestling coach,” said Kurtenbach. “One day my brother Al called me.”

He said his brother asked him if it wasn’t time for him to come and work for Daktronics.

So, he did.

Kurtenbach said the move to expand into Redwood Falls in 2007 was based on its need for employees, adding, that the announcement that the manufacturing plant was closing provided an opportunity to come in and utilize an experienced workforce already familiar with the electronics field.

Kurtenbach said they were familiar with the Redwood Falls site, as one of the founders of Zytec, Ron Schmidt, had actually been Al Kurtenbach’s student. He said they visited the Zytec facility during the year when it won the Malcolm Baldridge Award.

Kurtenbach said the family is proud of the successes it has experienced over the years, adding it is people working together at all levels that has led to the fact that Daktronics has been around for 50 years.

Jim Hanson, current director of production for Daktronics and who served as plant manager for the Redwood Falls site, said the company continues to innovate to keep up with the demands of the public internationally.

With sites in South Dakota, Minnesota, Ireland and Shanghai, Daktronics has a presence around the world. Like the phrase the sun never sets on British soil, the lights of Daktronics displays are literally shining 24 hours a day worldwide.

Hanson said the core values for Daktronics of being a company that strives for honesty, integrity, helpfulness and humility are applied every day by everyone.

“The founders believed when you keep values like that in mind, success will follow,” said Hanson.

Hanson said while the company is willing to celebrate its past successes, it continues to work on innovation to remain a world leader in the digital display market.

New products are coming, said Hanson, with Daktronics developing ideas in areas it has not been in the past.

Some of that growth is going to happen in Redwood Falls, and Tom Quackenbush, current local site plant manager, said the local facility has been gearing up for those new products all while continuing to focus on its current efforts striving to maintain its high level of quality and to become more efficient.

“We continue to add equipment that will align us with the future,” said Quackenbush, adding it is all about what the market is demanding.

Quackenbush said Daktronics will celebrate 12 years in Redwood Falls this coming January, and he said moving into the future there will be a demand for more people to fill the jobs Daktronics needs to continue to maintain its quality and to be on the cutting edge of technology.

“We need highly skilled people to do highly skilled activities,” said Quackenbush.

Kurtenbach said no one could have known just how much this company would grow in 50 years, but he expressed how excited he feels about the future for Daktronics.

“It’s time to look forward for the next 50 years,” he said.