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August 03, 2021 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Todd Simmons explains decision to locate in Knoxville, evolution of Cirrus Aircraft’s presence

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series spotlighting Cirrus Aircraft in general and, more specifically, the role it is playing in helping cast a spotlight on this region in ways that might not have been imagined a few years ago.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Anyone who has been involved in site selection, whether from the perspective of a company seeking a new location or communities being evaluated, knows that it is usually an exhaustive and time-consuming process. That was certainly the case for Cirrus Aircraft when it decided to locate a delivery center outside of its home state of Minnesota.

“By 2013, we knew we were going to relocate our global customer headquarters,” Todd Simmons, President of Customer Experience, told us in a recent interview. “We looked at 30 locations in 15 different states,” adding in retrospect, “We could not have made a better decision than Knoxville, Tennessee.”

As is the case with many companies choosing the Knoxville region, factors like quality of life, cost of living, the mountains and the lakes were important. To that list, Simmons added the presence of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, what he said was the “appropriate size” of the Knoxville airport, and the more temperate, pilot-friendly weather.

“Knoxville and the entire region really are ideal,” he said, noting that about 35 employees and their families previously based in Duluth, MN relocated to the Knoxville region in 2016. The local workforce today is around 175 people, one indication of the company’s success here.

Flight Training Center

From its initial building, Cirrus Aircraft has grown to three other buildings plus corporate office space in the nearby Tyson Centre. Collectively, those facilities comprise the Vision Center Campus that serves as the hub of the company’s amazing customer experience process. There is the Delivery Center, a Factory Service Center, and a state-of-the-art Flight Training Center that houses a Level D full-motion Vision Jet flight training simulator, the most advanced in the industry, and four other stationary simulators.

Factory Service Center

In addition, Cirrus Aircraft has a full media production studio that supports its flight training and marketing content development. The company has three other facilities in the U.S. – Duluth, MN where the planes are designed and manufactured, Grand Forks, ND where the airplane parts are assembled, and McKinney, TX where additional flight training and maintenance services are offered. There are also factory authorized flight training and service centers domestically as well as globally.

“Our goal is to increase engagement and participation in flying and more specifically to introduce more people to the life-changing benefits of personal aviation,” Simmons says. “We do this by making it easy to own and operate a Cirrus aircraft throughout the lifetime of ownership.”

That means the Vision Center’s purpose is not simply teaching people how to fly, but more focused on their life and the experiences they can enjoy through ownership of a Cirrus Aircraft. In Simmons words, that translates into answering this all-important question: “How do I get value beyond just the hardware?”

What amazed us was the extent to which Cirrus Aircraft goes to benchmark and mirror the very best in the world when it comes to outstanding customer service. For example, Stephen Deucker, the company’s Vice President and General Manager of the Vision Center, joined Cirrus Aircraft after serving as a senior executive with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

“We spend more time studying the best customer experience companies in the world,” Simmons says. “We take what those companies have learned over several decades and adopt the same principles of an amazing experience, starting with anticipating the customer’s needs. Our team sets a very high bar that we individually curate for each customer.”

A couple of examples illustrate that commitment, and both involve local partnerships.

Every new owner arriving at the Vision Center is loaned an Audi vehicle for the entire time that he, she or the couple is here. That comes through an arrangement with Harper Auto Square. If the owner is interested in a more immersive experience that includes one of the Knoxville area’s best natural assets – the Smoky Mountains, the team will help coordinate a stay at Blackberry Farms.

So, is it any wonder that, as Maribel Koella said, Cirrus Aircraft is having a major impact on helping those from elsewhere have a great experience in the Knoxville region and maybe even consider relocating here?

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