Big-name contracts mean jobs

John Nelson

John Nelson

Daktronics, Inc., the largest employer in Brookings, employed a record number of college students in the year of 2007.

Daktronics currently has 614 students on its payroll with 451 of them enrolled at SDSU. Students constitute about one-fourth of the employee body.

Aelred Kurtenbach, co-founder of Daktronics and former engineering professor, considers college students to be an integral part of the company.

“I see a student position as an opportunity for ‘student engagement,'” said Kurtenbach. “We give them a chance to enhance themselves. It allows us to get to know these bright young people and possibly give them a reason to stay in Brookings after they graduate.”

The company opened 54 new student positions in all of its departments in 2007. Over half of those positions are in non-manufacturing environments.

“We hire students from all areas of academia whether it’s electrical engineering, journalism, English or business,” said Kurtenbach.

“Daktronics has had a relationship with SDSU for over 35 years. We see the university as a magnet for bright minds, and we strive to meet as many of these bright-minded people as possible.”

Kurtenbach, along with Duane Sanders, were faculty members of SDSU’s College of Engineering when they started Daktronics in 1968.

According to Daktronics’ recruiting department, the company fills many full-time positions with former student employees.

“About one half of our students accept full-time position offers after they graduate from college,” said Duane Everding, a Daktronics recruiter. “We consider the students to be the best pool of people to choose from whenever a full-time position opens. They are the most familiar with the company, and they tend to bring fresh ideas to the table.”

Stacie Buus worked as a full-time student at Daktronics for three years until the company hired her after she graduated from SDSU. Buus currently works in Daktronics’ Personnel Department with insurance benefits and salary pay.

“I am very grateful that they offered me my job, especially because it meant that I would be able to stay in Brookings after graduation,” said Buus. “The relationship between Daktronics and SDSU is almost seamless, and it was just really made sense for me to take the job there after I graduated.”

According to the Brookings Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), a large part of the city’s growth can be attributed to the relationship between SDSU and the area’s businesses.

BEDC looks to keep more students in Brookings after they graduate by catering to their needs.

“We really do appreciate what companies like Daktronics have done for the community,” said Mike Struck, Regional Economic Development Specialist for BEDC. “We are strategizing to retain these students in the area and the state of South Dakota.”

The BEDC plans to do a study on SDSU student employment in early 2008 to assess its effect on the city.

“We are trying to build a quality of life for young professionals,” said Struck. “Studying the employment of SDSU’s students in Brookings can show us how we can better accommodate the needs of the graduating students and thus grow as a community.”

Businesses like Daktronics contribute to the manufacturing industry’s dominance of the city’s economy, and BEDC wants to counter-balance it with more service industry jobs.

“There’s always a need for jobs, and we would especially like to get more non-manufacturing jobs in town,” said Struck. “Our corporation intends to encourage more complimentary service businesses like retail stores and restaurants to cater to this younger demographic in Brookings. I think that if we can do that, these students will find more and more reasons to stay in and contribute to our community after graduation.”

The BEDC also encourages developers to consider new forms of housing in Brookings for college graduates.

“The graduating age group looks for good location, amenities, services and price when choosing where to live,” said Struck. “We’re looking to get some residences that are a step above apartments and yet cheap enough for graduates as they begin their careers in Brookings.”

Daktronics has received some orders for some big projects lately, according to Mark Steinkamp, the marketing and sales support manager at Daktronics. These include a major renovation at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the Indianapolis Colts’ new stadium, an update for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the New York Yankees’ new stadium.

The system Daktronics will be designing and building for the Yankees will feature the installation of a 1,280-foot long full-color light emitting diode (LED) ribbon board, which will be one of the longest continuous displays in Major League Baseball. The value of the Yankees’ project contract exceeds $19 million.

According to a press release, Daktronics currently has equipment at 26 of the 30 Major League Baseball venues, including the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome where the Minnesota Twins play. The Metrodome first had Daktronics equipment installed in 2001, and more was added by 2005.

“Nearly all of the manufacturing of our large sports systems takes place in the Brookings manufacturing plant,” Steinkamp said, “from electronic assembly, welding, painting, final assembly, testing and shipping. We continue to count on students to help us do our work, not only in manufacturing but in nearly all facets of the business.”