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Loss of hub is no snub to PTI 

Despite his experience with Skybus Airlines, Henry Isaacson is not down on discount carriers. The chairman of Piedmont Triad International Airport says Skybus, which shut down less than three months after opening a hub at the Greensboro airport, showed PTI could thrive with one. “We had more than 81,000 passengers fly on Skybus through March. It was the airport’s No. 1 carrier.”

When Skybus filed for bankruptcy in early April, the Columbus, Ohio-based airline employed about 80 there — far short of the 375 it promised the state last year in exchange for nearly $4 million in incentives over nine years. It wasn’t around long enough to get any state money, but the airport, with help from local governments, spent about $1.3 million on marketing and terminal improvements. Isaacson says it recouped those expenses from rent, parking fees and concessions. When the hub was running, PTI had 91 daily flights to 24 cities; the airport now has 75 to 20 cities.

Skybus’ business model could have been successful, he says, but for skyrocketing fuel prices and tight credit. “We were getting people from all over the state — from Charlotte and Raleigh — as well as from Virginia and South Carolina.” The numbers Skybus put up make a good case for the airport, he adds. “We’re going to aggressively search for more low-fare service — from our existing airlines and from new carriers.”

Skybus already has helped recruiting — only not in the way Isaacson describes. Allegiant Air dropped plans to pull out of PTI after Skybus departed. Make that because it departed, according to Robert Ashcroft, Allegiant vice president of planning. “The presence of Skybus was a destabilizing factor behind our original decision to withdraw,” he said in a press release. “We preferred to stay clear of a company acting in ways we did not understand.”

Tyri Squyres, a spokeswoman for Allegiant, explained that company officials were puzzled when Skybus executives said they were following the example of Dublin, Ireland-based low-cost carrier Ryanair but then put hubs in cities such as Greensboro and Columbus. Ryanair’s main hub is London. “Some of their selections of routes, and their planning in general, we didn’t understand it.” Allegiant had planned to end service from Greensboro at the end of May. But it not only will keep its daily flights to Orlando and Tampa, Fla., it will resume service this month to Fort Lauderdale, which it canceled in January after Skybus opened its hub in the Gate City.

RF Micro Devices has entered new territory in its hometown. The Greensboro-based company, which makes cell-phone parts, has steadily added workers since it began operations in 1991. That changed in mid-April, when it announced it was consolidating some testing in China and would trim 80 jobs in the Gate City. Three weeks later, it dropped a bigger bomb: It had cut 200 more local jobs as part of a companywide restructuring. The layoffs leave about 1,800 of its 3,800 worldwide jobs there. That’s one reason it still has an ample reserve of good will. Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, says he regrets the layoffs but is sympathetic to the company’s needs. “RF Micro needs to be able to improve productivity and profitability. That’s the company’s No. 1 goal. That plays to the other 1,800 employees that they have. Whatever is good for RF Micro is good for Greensboro and the Triad.”

HIGH POINT — Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna will add 300 employees by the end of the year, giving it more than 1,000 here. It recently won a contract to provide health insurance to employees of Charlotte-based Bank of America.

WINSTON-SALEM — Hatteras Financial, a mortgage real-estate investment trust, raised $276 million in its initial public offering. Hatteras, which began operations in November, will use the proceeds to buy government-guaranteed hybrid and adjustable-rate mortgage securities.

HIGH POINT — Attendance at the High Point Market spring show was 82,095 — down by about 3,600 from a year ago and 1,879 from the fall market. Officials blamed the drop partly on contraction in the industry.

GREENSBORO — Robert Lowe, 65, will retire June 30 as CEO of NewBridge Bancorp, the parent of New Bridge Bank. No successor was named. Pressley Ridgill, 55, is president of the holding company and CEO of the bank.

GREENSBORO — Two of RF Micro Device’s three founders retired. Bill J. Pratt, 65, was chief technical officer, and Powell T. Seymour, 65, was corporate vice president of strategic operations. The company, started in 1991, makes chips that boost cell-phone power and netted $83.4 million in fiscal 2007. The third founder, Jerry Neal, 63, is executive vice president of marketing and strategic development.

WINSTON-SALEM — Steve Reinemund, 60, will begin July 1 as dean of the undergraduate and graduate business schools at Wake Forest University. The former PepsiCo CEO and chairman is the first person to head both schools. Ajay Patel, dean of the graduate business school, and Jack Wilkerson of the undergraduate school plan to return to teaching.

WINSTON-SALEM — Apparel maker Hanesbrands sold a factory and a distribution center in North Carolina to Woodland, Calif.-based Tower Investments. Terms were not disclosed. Hanesbrands plans to lease the distribution center in Scotland County. It will close the plant in Asheboro by the end of the month, idling about 40.

WINSTON-SALEM — The Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center won a five-year, $42.5 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department. It will study regenerative treatment for lost limbs or severe burns.

WINSTON-SALEM — Mandalay Baseball Properties will manage the Winston-Salem Warthogs’ operations when the team begins play next year in a new downtown stadium. Los Angeles-based Mandalay owns or operates six other minor-league teams. Terms weren’t disclosed.

WINSTON-SALEM — Reynolds American expanded the test markets for Camel Snus smokeless tobacco from eight cities to 17. New markets include Los Angeles and New York. It introduced the product in Raleigh and seven other cities in 2006.

WINSTON-SALEM — The N.C. School of the Arts wants to change its name to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The proposal cleared the UNC Board of Governors in early May and headed to the General Assembly. Supporters say the change would raise the school’s profile.

GREENSBORO — Guilford Technical Community College asked to be part of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering being developed by UNC Greensboro and N.C. A&T State University. Neither university had responded. The school is scheduled to open this fall.