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Soar spot: HondaJet breaks ground on $15.5 million expansion at PTI

GREENSBORO — Honda Aircraft Co. will be able to get its jets to customers more quickly, thanks to a $15.5 million expansion that was announced Tuesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper and a variety of business and political leaders joined Michimasa Fujino, the chief executive officer of Honda Aircraft, near a vast field that will be the site of the 82,000-square-foot building the company will add to its campus at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

The company said the new building will bring its investment at the airport to $245 million. Although no new employees will be added to the roughly 1,500 already working at PTI, the facility will allow Honda to expand production of its light business jet — $5.2 million will get you the top-end model — from four planes a month to five.

Cooper said the expansion also enhances North Carolina’s reputation as a center for aviation manufacturing. He pointed out that the state has the second-fastest growing aerospace business cluster in the nation, with 200 aerospace companies and 400 suppliers.

Honda Aircraft is a major part of that, Cooper said.

“They have to know that ... we can supply them with the first-rate, first-class workforce that they need to do the job,” he said.

Kevin Baker, PTI’s executive director, said the expansion will help Honda Aircraft have more control over the manufacturing of the HondaJet, which seats seven (including the pilot), has a top speed of 486 mph and a range of more than 1,400 miles.

Baker was a senior airport staffer when Honda announced it was interested in setting up its headquarters at PTI in late 2006. He remembers his boss asked him to come up with a way the company could build on airport property. At the time, he had just moved into a new house.

“I sit down on the hardwood floors that had no furniture on them whatsoever with maps of this area right here and started drawing what this might actually look like,” Baker recalled. “To me, it’s an absolutely surreal thing to be standing here with all of these assets that Honda has put in place.”

Fujino told attendees Tuesday morning that there are now 130 HondaJets in service worldwide, from Southeast Asia to Europe — all made in Greensboro.

“I am often asked why I chose Greensboro for Honda Aircraft Co.’s headquarters,” he said. “In North Carolina, I saw great opportunity for growth and recognized the community as a place where employees could live a balanced and active life.”

PHOTOS BY Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record  

Camden Creed, 11, cheers as a ball is hit into the mouth of the tall Golfrilla inflatable target Tuesday at the 2019 Greensboro All-Star Kids Clinic at Grandover Resort.

All-Star Kids Clinic to go national after getting its start at Wyndham

GREENSBORO — “This is a dream I never had.”

For Paul Tesori, the energetic caddie of pro golfer Webb Simpson, it was the best way for him to describe the journey of a foundation he and his wife, Michelle, are very passionate about.

The All-Star Kids Clinic, which gives children with special needs a chance to enjoy the game of golf, was a big hit on Tuesday at Grandover Resort’s driving range. Tesori got help with the clinic from PGA Tour pro Austin Cook and his caddie, Kip Henley.

It was in 2015 when a casual conversation with Mark Brazil, the director of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament, that the Tesoris decided to do a golf clinic for special-needs children. From that day on the clinic has grown to a national level.

“We don’t want to give Mark too much credit,” Paul Tesori said with a laugh, “but it was him and Michelle who kind of got this thing started and it’s going strong as ever.”

Twenty-five children from the Triad area took part in the 90-minute clinic, and that scene has played out at various PGA Tour tournaments over the past five years. Next year, 20 clinics will be scheduled, and the plan after that is rather ambitious.

“We plan on being at every PGA Tour stop by the year 2024,” Tesori said. “We are so blessed that this has taken off like it has.”

When the Tesoris had their son, Isaiah, it was determined he had Down syndrome. Instead of using that as an excuse, they leaned on their strong Christian beliefs and went about the business of creating the Tesori Family Foundation with the intent to help others.

Michelle Tesori is at home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., because Isaiah, 5, is attending a camp. She says she is thankful for what the clinic has become and continues to be a driving force behind it.

“I can’t believe God is allowing us to take this thing across the country,” she wrote in an e-mail.

One of the reasons the clinic was a success in 2015 was the help from the First Tee of the Triad, which helps organize the slew of volunteers. Wyndham also has been generous with donations and this week wrote a $10,000 check to the Tesori Family Foundation.

“This allows us to get kids into our First Tee programs who maybe can’t afford it,” said Mike Barber, the executive director of the First Tee of the Triad. “The special-needs kids sometimes don’t leave the house much and to see these kids out here enjoying the game and hearing it’s going national is great.

“Without the dedication of Paul and Michelle and their foundation, none of his happens.” Barber said. “There is no more heartwarming thing that we do all year.”

Among the children attending the clinic was Jakob Taylor of High Point, who is 8. His mother, Brittany, said he was up at 4:30 a.m. ready to go.

“This is the third time he’s attended this clinic and he couldn’t wait,” Taylor said. “He loves coming out here and getting a chance to learn more about golf.”

One addition to the clinic this year is a 15-foot-high inflatable “Golfrilla” at which kids can try to hit plastic golf balls into his mouth for points. Henley, who was using one of Cook’s wedges, got a round of applause after he knocked a ball into the Golfrilla’s mouth on his last shot.

Cook, who is fighting to stay qualified for the PGA Tour as he heads into the final regular-season tournament, says it was a no-brainer for him to help with the clinic.

“What they do is phenomenal,” he said. “When I was in college I worked with an organization called 99 Balloons that worked with special-needs kids. My wife has a special-needs brother so this means a lot to me to come out here and help anyway that we can.”

For T.J. Gerald, a 12-year-old from Kernersville, he loved trying to make some putts at First Tee’s putting zoo on the practice green.

T.J.’s sister, Giavonni, said seeing the joy in her brother’s face is so worthwhile.

“It’s something he loves doing and it’s so wonderful that this clinic is here,” Gianonni said.

Tommy Conahan, who is 12 and attends Northern Guilford Middle School, plans to try out for the golf team this year. While growing up, he tried all the team sports, his mother, Tammi Conahan, said, but once he started in the First Tee of the Triad at Greensboro National he was hooked on golf.

“I can’t say enough about what the First Tee did for him,” Conahan said. “Golf has drawn him out to where he’s more engaging and it’s something he talks about all the time. His favorite player is Billy Horschel, who he met for the first time a couple of years ago at this clinic.”

Tesori made sure to stop by and converse with each and every child at the clinic. And he tried to convey a message to them and their parents.

“We are about having fun with the clinic,” he said. “This is about serving the kids and their families and seeing the joy in their eyes with hitting a golf shot or just learning something new. That’s what we’ve tried to do through the years.”

Tesori said he finds it hard to believe that next year the clinics will be in 20 cities throughout the PGA Tour schedule.

“Our biggest thing is to raise the awareness of these kids with special needs because they aren’t broken,” he said. “They are a little different with the challenges they face on a daily basis. They might look different, but they can be successful and they are All-Stars.”

High Point man's foundation sends final shipment to South Africa to help with literacy — 1 million books

Brown started his literacy foundation after a trip to South Africa. The lack of books in the schools in black township schools “just crushed me,” he said.

HIGH POINT — Volunteers at a High Point warehouse have packed and shipped about a million books in the past couple of days.

The process marked the end of a 30-year-long effort by High Point businessman and philanthropist Robert Brown to promote literacy and education in South Africa through his organization, the International BookSmart Foundation.

Since its founding, the foundation has sent more than 5 million books to Africa. However, Brown recently found out the space he had been using to store the reading material had been sold, and he decided to send off all of the remaining volumes.

“It has been a passion of mine,” he said. “I would give these children a book, and they would just cry, and it went right to my soul. We’ve had some unbelievable people helping us. I can’t say enough.”

About 20 volunteers from UPS local operations arrived Monday morning to pack up the books. Cardboard boxes full of textbooks, storybooks, teaching aids and other volumes were stacked on pallets and wrapped in plastic. Forklift drivers loaded them onto 40-foot-long shipping containers. From High Point, the containers are taken to the Port of Savannah in Georgia, where they will be loaded onto ships.

The effort was being coordinated by the UPS Foundation, HandsOn of Northwest North Carolina and the Volunteer Center of Greensboro.

“This was pulled together in about four or five business days,” said Amy Lytle, the executive director of HandsOn of Northwest North Carolina. “The volunteers have been responsive. We had to make sure we had enough forklifts, enough forklift drivers. We had to coordinate all the shipping containers, since we can’t have them here all at once. And we just want to make sure these books find a good home.”

A High Point native, 84-year-old Brown made his career in communications and management consulting, and runs his own firm, B&C International. Over the years he has worked with, among others, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Richard Nixon, along with a number of corporations looking for advice on reaching out to minority consumers.

He founded the International BookSmart Foundation in 1988 after a trip to South Africa, which at that time was segregated under apartheid.

“I went there and saw the schools in the black townships,” Brown said. “They’d have a little blackboard. But I asked, ‘Where are the books?’ And they said, ‘Well, we don’t have any books.’ And that just crushed me. I couldn’t believe it.”

Soon he was garnering literal truckloads of books for his effort.

“A classmate had heard I was collecting books,” he said. “She said they had plenty of books (at Guilford County Schools). They warehoused them, because they had to change the books regularly. She asked me how many I wanted. I said I wanted as many as I can get. I had a storage unit next to my office, and I said I would meet them there. They called and said they were on their way. They had a tractor-trailer. Well, I had to rent two storage units.”

Most of those old books had been destined for the shredder, but Brown was able to secure some corporate sponsors to help pay the cost of shipping them to Africa.

Eventually, he decided to rent a warehouse to store the books. In 2015, he began working with the UPS Foundation, volunteers from which set up some metal racks inside the warehouse and helped organize the books.

Over the course of Monday and Tuesday volunteers moved more than 250 pallets of books.

Brown said he is willing to provide some advice for anyone interested in getting an organization such as his off the ground. But he’ll miss the endeavor.

“It breaks my heart to close it down,” he said. “But it also lifts me up that so many people have wrapped their arms around me and this project.”

Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record 

Pro caddie Paul Tesori claps for Rachel Levy, 11, during the golf clinic for special-needs children.

An interesting article in today's paper

Town halls: Local legislators plan to discuss state budget at meetings today, Thursday in Triad. Page A3

Richard Barron / Richard M. Barron/BH MEDIA  

Michimasa Fujino, the CEO of Honda Aircraft, speaks at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the company’s $15.5 million expansion in Greensboro. The expansion will allow the company to build HondaJets quicker.

Greensboro Transit Agency making major changes to bus route system

GREENSBORO — After months of study, the Greensboro Transit Agency has scheduled significant changes across much of its route system to take effect next week.

The changes add, move or eliminate numerous stops on 14 of the transit system’s 17 routes, said Kevin Elwood, GTA’s manager of marketing and communications.

The new route system is scheduled to begin Monday and emerged from GTA’s Mobility 2040 short-term transit study, Elwood said.

“Our planners had to accomplish this with no additional spending on transit services,” he said. “While this of course means that a few riders may have to alter the travels they have become accustomed to, the modifications will provide better service to our customers and the overall community.”

Elwood noted that one of the biggest changes involves dividing the “consistently overcrowded” Route 12 that now serves South Elm and Eugene streets and Randleman Road into two separate routes.

The new Route 12 will continue traveling the South Elm and Eugene segment, while a new Route 13 will focus on the Randleman corridor, he said.

Current routes that will continue without major changes include those focused on Summit Avenue and West Market and Yanceyville streets.

GTA riders can preview the changes at both by viewing a video report and by downloading individual maps of the various new routes, along with the revised timetables.

Announced Tuesday morning, the plan already has drawn opposition from critics who contend the changes will adversely affect “low income Greensboro residents who live farther away from downtown and whose livelihood depends on GTA public buses.”

Local activists and the Working America affiliate of AFL-CIO are planning a news conference Thursday to protest the route changes and ask the City Council to put them on hold until rider concerns can be aired during one of the council’s public comment periods.

“The coalition will urge the Greensboro City Council to call off the changes, allow the public to voice their concerns and then re-examine alterations to bus routes so changes are more equitable for everyone,” Working America spokeswoman Catherine Walton-Ward said in a statement Tuesday.

The news conference is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Phill G. McDonald Plaza, 110 S. Greene St.

Elwood said the changes were made after an extensive public outreach effort that included public meetings, rider surveys and online presentations.

He said they were formally enacted in May by what was then known as the Greensboro Transit Authority, shortly before the council renamed it the Greensboro Transit Agency and recast its governing board as an advisory commission.

The new route system has been under development and review for more than six months, Elwood said. The changes will not affect overall route timing; buses will continue the current 30-minute frequency, he said.

Elwood added that GTA staff members will be on hand at The Depot, the main transit hub at 236 E. Washington St., for the next week to help passengers adjust to the changes.