Some day, history will reflect that the Italian Ambassador to the United States visited Tuskegee in conjunction with the T-100 project.

The Honorable Armando Varricchio had a full schedule on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 that included dinner in Montgomery with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, other state officials and invited guests.

Earlier that day he was in Tuskegee being warmly welcomed by this community. Leonardo DRS CEO, Bill Lynn and other high-ranking Leonardo DRS executives accompanied the Ambassador and a lot of people had a hand in making their visit here extra special.

Joe Turnham deserves a big pat on the back for his role. As Executive Director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA), he is the liaison to Leonardo DRS and the company’s team issued strict orders about the visit being confidential.

There were also stipulations about attendance at events to welcome the Ambassador. In spite of these and other constraints, Joe pulled together the right resources for the occasion.

Activities were held at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, which celebrates the African-American men and women, trained at Moton Field for service during World War II. This placed the visiting delegation on the same grounds where the T-100 manufacturing plant will be built, “When We Win.”

Superintendent Sandy Taylor and her team provided exceptional support for issues involving the Airmen site. Local officials, including the Macon County Commission and the City of Tuskegee, were engaged partners who went above and beyond concerning critical services.

It is providential that Tuskegee’s own Artist-In-Residence, Dr. Ronald McDowell is renowned as the “Michelangelo of This Generation” and he presented a mini-exhibit of his original artworks.

An executive suggested that Dr. McDowell rebrand himself as the “Leonardo of This Generation” to be in synch with the Leonardo Company. Smart minds within the Leonardo corporate sanctum changed the company’s name in recognition of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific genius and iconic artworks.

The showcase of “Made in Macon” products also included Energy H20 bottled water extracted by Moses Weaver from an aquifer on his family’s land in Shorter, award-winning wines cultivated at Whippoorwill Vineyards in Notasulga and freshly harvested greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes grown by Al Hooks on his farm in Macon County.

After Loretta Alexander began T-100 Fridays at her dry cleaning business, she developed a special bond with Joe Militano who heads communications' efforts for Leonardo DRS. On Monday, they met for the first time and it was sweet to witness their friendship blossom.

The Italian Ambassador’s visit was a moment in time that we will mark as another milestone in the journey to land the T-100, which of course will be a game changer for this community involving BUSINESS MATTERS.

Karin Hopkins is executive director of the Tuskegee Area Chamber of Commerce and also co- founder of ECHOboom, a digital media platform. Contact her at ourchamberworks@gmail.com.

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