Tryon World Equestrian Games Saves Cabinet Business, 67 Jobs To Help Build Housing for Championships

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Mark Bellissimo at U.S. Precision, the robotic modular home assembly plant. © 2017 Ken Braddick/

Feb. 4, 2018


Preparations for the Tryon World Equestrian Games has led chief organizer Mark Bellissimo to save a commercial cabinet maker and 67 jobs to become a construction partner with his modular manufacturing plant gearing up to build housing for the global championships.

Mark Bellissimo stepped in to buy the company less than three days after a private equity firm had announced a shut-down of the company.

The ability to keep open Touchstone Fine Cabinetry in Rutherfordton, was the latest economic impact of Tryon International Equestrian Center in western North Carolina, an area that had been largely passed over in growth centered mostly in the eastern part of the state.

Mark Bellissimo bought the cabinetry business in a 220,000 square-foot/20,440 sq.-meter plant near his U.S. Precision that is gearing up to manufacture modular units to be assembled into a multi-story hotel at TIEC in time to become a village for the estimated 1,000 athletes participating in the World Games Sept. 11-23.

“I don’t know anything about building cabinets,” Mark told after closing the deal for Touchstone. “But I know about people and their ability to rise to an occasion through better strategies, organization, technology and inspiration.

“We just ordered millions of dollars worth of robots and automation for delivery over the next two weeks. We will take a terribly inefficient business, with very little automation, that lost millions over the last five years, and reorganize and restructure the way cabinets are made. I believe we will restore it to profitability within the year and become an industry leader for high end custom cabinetry. Within the year, we will take what is typically a six-eight-week cycle time to process, complete and ship an order and turn it into a one-week cycle time.

“Most importantly, we will take a group of 67 passionate people, give them the appropriate tools, and create a platform for them to reach their potential and  make them part of something where they can be proud. This investment and these people will contribute significantly to our ability to develop hospitality and lodging for the WEG as they will be building the hotel furniture, bathrooms, closet and lobby components for our various hotel and lodging products.

“What is most interesting, exciting and rewarding for me and our organization is that a group of people who would have been unemployed, may in the end be one of the great contributors to the development of critical infrastructure to support the WEG, an event that has a great opportunity to economically transform this region for decades to come.”

The existing Touchstone plant.

An estimated 500,000 visitors from about 70 countries are expected for the world championships held once every four years of the eight international equestrian sports of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para-dressage.

About $200 million has been spent creating TIEC in the past four years by the partnership of Mark and Katherine Bellissimo, Roger and Jennifer Smith, Lisa Lourie, Howard and Gwen Dvorkin, Diana and Jennifer Mercer and Joe and Cindy Mitchell.

The group came to the rescue of the WEG after Canadian organizers pulled out with only two years to go.

“I’m proud to live in this community and am constantly impressed by the tremendous talent we have here,” said Roger Smith who in addition to the Tryon partnership is one of the founding partners in Wellington, Florida that owns the Global Dressage Festival and Winter Equestrian Festival.

“This is a great opportunity to give back to the people who continue to support our efforts. I get great joy in being a part of this team.”

“I’m looking forward to our partnership helping to make this area a leader in the manufacturing industry once again,” said Lisa Lourie. “Who knew that investing in equestrian sport would lead to this wonderful opportunity to positively impact the community?”

The World Equestrian Games main stadium to seat 20,000 spectators will be located on what is currently a grass field and is adjacent to the existing centerpiece George Morris arena. © Ken Beaddick/

The Tryon venue on 1,500 acres/600Ha in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains includes 1,200 permanent stalls, 12 competition arenas, a lighted international arena that seats 6,000 with multiple VIP areas, a large covered/indoor arena that seats 5,000, as well as a course for both eventing cross country and driving marathon.

More stabling, a temporary main arena for 20,000 spectators for dressage, jumping and the jumping phase of eventing, expansion of the indoor arena for reining and vaulting as well as other enhancements will be erected by the opening of WEG.