From founders’ home to industrial park, CDI thrives in international market

Celebrating Manufacturing Week

Steele County Times (page A7)

By Deb Flemming


Imagine playing with an Erector Set or skating at an indoor ice rink and you’ll get a glimpse into the history and future of Owatonna-based Climate by Design International (CDI).

CDI began in 1989 as a computer-aided drafting service – for just about anything and everything – in the home of its founders Tom and Sue Peterson.

Soon after its inception, the company moved into the Owatonna Business Incubator, where it designed custom air quality solutions for customers. In those early days, the parts required to build its products were loaded into a trailer and driven to Mankato where they were assembled and shipped to customers. “Think of an Erector set,” said Tom Peterson, adding that the Mankato firm he contracted to do the work had the skilled labor needed to assemble the units under the watchful eye of his supervisor. “What we learned from 1989-1991 allowed us to get good at heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technology,” Peterson said.

Today, CDI designs and produces desiccant dehumidifiers and critical process air handlers for worldwide distribution at its 66,000 square-foot production facility located in Owatonna’s Industrial Park. In addition to its own building, CDI rents 30,000 square-feet offsite for production and a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Owatonna. The largest unit manufactured by CDI today – about the size of a trailer – removes 2,000 pounds or 1 ton of moisture from the air per hour; its smallest unit – about the size of a desk, removes about 10 pounds of moisture per hour.

In the marketplace, its products are used in a wide array of applications, including ice arenas, hospital surgical suites and food processing facilities. A large market for CDI’s products is hurricane-ravaged areas. “Our process dries a building in one-tenth the time of the traditional process,” said Peterson.  Simply put: Things dry faster with desiccant dehumidification.

Examples provided by Peterson include:

  • A 16-story building in Seattle, where use of CDI’s product cut the construction time by 16 weeks; and
  • Food processing facilities, where rooms need to be washed down after every shift. What used to take 4 hours to dry, now takes an hour.

To understand the benefits of using desiccant dehumidifiers and air-supply units to reduce humidity or maintain a dry environment, think of a piece of hard candy. “If you’ve every struggled to remove the plastic wrapper because it’s sticking to the candy,” Peterson said, “It’s because there was too much moisture in the packaging process. Desiccant dehumidifiers and air handling systems are designed to remove and control the moisture for food processors – or, in the case of hard candy, offer a no-stick solution.

Four years ago, CDI changed its name from Concepts and Designs Inc. to Climate by Design International, with an eye on the international market. Today, international business represents about 12% of the manufacturer’s sales. And just last month, CDI launched a new product that will allow 6,000 municipal ice arenas located north of the Canadian border to retrofit their failing refrigeration units with CDI’s desiccant units.

There’s more to come, according to Peterson. CDI recently obtained a patent that will allow it to launch a new record/archiving storage product for libraries. Release of the new product is expected in about 18 months. Over the years, CDI’s workforce has increased to more than 150 people and it’s still growing. “We’re hiring for just about everything, from assembly positions to electrical engineering,” Peterson said.

Peterson said he and his wife Sue started CDI for several reasons. In addition to having and providing good employment, the couple wanted to have the financial wherewithal to donate to the causes they believe in – many of them Christian-based. “We replaced fear with faith – faith in the products, the team and ultimately God,” he said, adding that business ethics, integrity, treating employees with respect and giving back to the community rank high on his list of what’s most important.