Land deal leads to Carson City company that’s still computing
Special to the Nevada Appeal
According to Al Fiegehen, chief executive officer of Cubix Corporation in Carson City, the computer industry is about to explode at the same rate it did in the 1980s when computer technology forever changed the world.
The online magazine, Wired, refers to the 1980s as the “Decade That Invented the Future.” IBM introduced the PC in 1981 when Microsoft invented MS-Dos; three years later, the Apple McIntosh was introduced. Time magazine referred to 1982 as “The Year of the Computer” and by 1983, about 10 million computers were in use.
Fiegehen and his then partner, Don Lehr, were right at the forefront of this technological explosion when computers went from the second-generation memory systems developed by IBM between 1947-1962 to third generation systems with integrated circuits introduced in 1963.
By 1975 Cubix, the niche computer company they founded in Orange, Calif., was going strong building custom business computers for clients who wanted faster and more efficient systems. Fiegehen recalls, “The Intel 1103 DRAM chip introduced in 1970, followed by the introduction of the Altair 8080 in 1975, changed simple computing forever.”
Always interested in technology, after graduating with an electrical engineering (BSEE) degree from Lawrence Technical University in Michigan, Fiegehen began his career working on computer systems at General Electric prior to employment at the Chrysler Corporation Missile Division working with Dr. Wernher von Braun, one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration in the 20th century.
In 1978, three years after co-founding Cubix, Fiegehen and Lehr moved their families and business to Carson City at a time when Carson City was seeking manufacturers to provide a more balanced workforce. The timing was serendipitous. As he states, “A friend of mine dropped by at the time I was looking to expand and move my business to a larger facility in the Orange County/LA area and told me that Carson City, Nevada was giving free land to manufacturers who would move to the area.”
The cost to move Cubix was more expensive than anticipated, and Fiegehen just didn’t want to commute more than the 10 minutes he was used to. The free land offer was tempting. “I asked my friend, where is Carson City — never heard of it.” When he found it to be close to Lake Tahoe, his interest piqued. He and Lehr flew to Reno, rented a car, and unannounced walked into the office of then Mayor Harold Jacobsen and met with City Manager Hank Etchemendy. A map was given to the partners and off they went to discover Arrowhead to be mostly a dirt road. The land wasn’t free, though the “deal” the city offered at the time — and too good to pass up — was to lease the land for 40 years at $60 per acre. That “deal” later changed to allow manufacturers to buy the land outright. Other parcels were later sold at auction allowing the partners to purchase even more land designated for future expansion.
In 1979, Carson City became a center of technology when Cubix opened its doors. Through the ’80s and through most of the ’90s, the computer industry was strong and so was Cubix. The list of clients was long as custom systems were created for those who needed power and speed. During this period, Cubix grew to a $70 million company.
Then, “At the turn of the century, it was as though someone threw the switch on companies such as ours that were making our own motherboards,” mused Fiegehen.
Suddenly, companies such as Apple, IBM, Dell and others were mass producing affordable computers made in China. “Just about every competitor we had at that time went out of business.”
He’s proud his company weathered the downturn — though they had to downsize — because of “our frugal business practices that kept our doors open.”
Today, Fiegehen is the sole owner of Cubix and lists among current clients such household names as the Department of Defense, Volkswagen, Disney, ESPN, NBC Universal, GE Medical and more. He’s particularly proud the City of San Jose is using his computer systems on the pilot program to bring autonomous driving to public transit. Cubix is truly an international company with almost 50 percent of its clients from outside the United States.
“Last year was the best year we have had in a long time, and I am seeing big growth for the first time in 8-10 years,” he enthused.
At 81, Fiegehen is still creating supercomputers and is as enthusiastic about the future of computing as he was when he first entered the field.
“I am blown away by this next wave of technology such as creating “deep learning” systems used in creating artificial intelligence and am excited to be a part of it,” he beamed, adding “I am proud today’s Cubix is still very much on the cutting edge of technology.”
His son, Eric, states, “Our marketing and sales efforts are in high gear.” Eric has worked alongside his father since he was a teenager starting at the ground level and is today the operations manager, overseeing a staff of 14.
Fiegehen also is part owner of Glen Eagles Restaurant, formerly known as Armio’s Bonanza Inn. Armio’s was his favorite watering hole and he bought the restaurant in 1997 after it closed, so he and his friends could enjoy camaraderie, good food and drink after golf and work. Today, Eric and his wife Kim own and oversee the operations of this popular eating and drinking place that has retained a pub feel and will soon be expanding.
Fiegehen ended the interview claiming, “I would never have found Carson City in a million years at the time I was looking to expand and am so glad I am here and have never looked back, for I feel this city is the best place in the United States to live and work.”