Dale Klapmeier, co-founder of Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, shares his story in a new 41-minute show dedicated to industry-changing entrepreneurs.
The second episode of a program called “Airtime” debuted on YouTube this week and in it, Klapmeier reflects on the evolution of Cirrus, a company he and his brother, Alan, launched from a barn in Baraboo, Wis.
In an interview with show host, Stephen Newton, Klapmeier reflects on those humble farmstead beginnings, saying: “I think back to that, and we’re going to take on Cessna, the big dogs, and Piper and Beechcraft — these household names in aviation, great companies, I mean well-run companies with fantastic products. And a couple of kids in a barn are going, ‘We’re going to do it better. We’ve got a better idea.’ Is that pure arrogance or total stupidity?”
“Probably a bit of both actually,” Newton said with a chuckle. “I think you need a bit of both.”
In the same episode, Klapmeier also discusses the decision to move Cirrus to Duluth, where much of the show also was shot. It was in Duluth that Cirrus' business really began to take off, as it introduced the SR20, an innovative new piston-engine aircraft made of composite materials and equipped with a whole-plane emergency parachute system.
Klapmeier talks about highs and lows for Cirrus, including the tough times that befell the company in 2008, when the recession struck. He described an industry collapse that forced Cirrus to sharply curtail production and lay off hundreds of workers. The company went from employing about 1,400 people to just north of 400 during this painful chapter.
But the company rebounded after China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA) acquired it in 2011, infusing Cirrus' operations with new capital.
Klapmeier also credits Duluth for sustaining Cirrus through that difficult period when the company’s future appeared to be touch and go.
“We survived. The community helped us survive. I’m not sure we would have survived in other cities, but we did. The community actually stood behind us, and we came out the other end. The community has come out much better too,” he told Newton
Today, Cirrus employs more than 1,000 people in Duluth, 250 at a composite plant in Grand Forks, N.D., and approximately 120 more at an aircraft delivery center in Knoxville, Tenn.
The company notched more than $430 million in sales last year, delivering 380 piston-engine planes and 63 of its new SF50 jets.