The city of Troy is experiencing some exciting progress, due in no small part to the efforts of Troy University. But the educational institution’s promotion of economic growth doesn’t stop at the Troy city limits; it continues throughout the region.
Bringing new businesses to the Troy area and encouraging entrepreneurial innovation among students are part of Walter Givhan’s role at Troy University. Named Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development in 2014, his duties incorporate a variety of development and outreach re
sponsibilities, including leading the university’s efforts to promote economic development across the state and region.
Givhan, who retired from a 33-year career in the U.S. Air Force prior to joining Troy, said, “We take a very deliberate approach to being part of the economic development efforts here in the city and the county and the region.” He serves on the Pike County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors and works closely with the board and the Pike County Chamber of Commerce.
“We have been an integral part in some of the recent successes that we’ve had in bringing new industries to Troy and Pike County,” he added. These include the planned relocation of Conecuh Ridge Distillery to the area. “We got pulled in early as part of the presentation to that company.” His team prepared a promotional video for the makers of Clyde Mays Alabama-style whiskey, which had its origins in a moonshine still not far from the city. The theme of the video was about coming home to Troy.
“When the people at Conecuh Ridge saw that, they just said, ‘Yes, that’s us.’" Though that was not the only factor that landed the company, Givhan said, “It was a big part of it. They also were impressed with the fact that we as a university showed our commitment to the project and to being a partner with them.”
Troy University was also part of the team that landed Kimber Manufacturing, the firearms maker, which announced in the early part of 2018 that it will open a $38 million production facility in Troy and create 366 jobs.
The possibility of internships and student projects figure into the university’s desire to support business and industry. “These close connections to industries are important to us,” Givhan said, “but it goes deeper than that.” He noted that KW Plastics, the world’s largest plastics recycling firm, is headquartered in Troy, as is HB&G Building Products. Along with Kimber, these are companies that work with composite materials and polymer. “We looked at that, and we said, ‘We’d really like our labs to be extensions of their labs.’”
As a result, the development of a new center is underway. “We’ve been working for a while now, establishing a Center for Material and Manufacturing Science here at Troy. We’ll actually work with these plastics and polymers.” Givhan added, “That way the university will be an integral part of development with them, and I think also it will add to attracting other industries.”
The IDEA Bank is another significant undertaking that could have far-reaching impact. Programmatically, it will be housed within the Troy University Sorrell College of Business. The location, however, will be in a former Regions Bank building on the square in downtown Troy.
“IDEA is an acronym that stands for innovation, design and entrepreneurship accelerator. This is a very exciting initiative,” Givhan said. A cohort of students who have a business idea or have already begun a business will be selected for this opportunity. “You’ll be amazed at how many students already begin businesses while they’re in college. We discovered that, and that’s why we came up with this IDEA Bank concept to really foster that entrepreneurship and that creativity.” The program is expected to be up and running by next fall.
“Long-term we think it would be neat to have a residential component,” Givhan added. Noting that entrepreneurs feed off each other creatively, he said, “It’s about collaboration too.” The students can also have a storefront if they have products to sell.
Givhan sees a connection between the growth in Pike County and in the Montgomery area, and the role of Troy University. “We work closely with the Chamber of Commerce in Montgomery, and of course we have a Montgomery campus. I’d really like to see elements of the IDEA Bank – and we’ve talked about this – extending into Montgomery.”
He also cited the university’s partnership with the Alabama World Affairs Council as well the university’s emphasis on international business and international focus. “We’re fond of calling ourselves Alabama’s international university because of our commitment to that,” he said. Given the number of international businesses locating in and around the capital city, he said, “We think that’s another thing we bring to the Montgomery area.”
Troy Conecuh Ridge Distillery to Break Ground
Groundbreaking is planned for late this year on a 76-acre site in Troy for the Conecuh Ridge Distillery LLC. The $13.6 million project was announced in 2017 after a search for an Alabama location to consolidate operations for the makers of Clyde May’s Alabama-style whiskey. When completed, the facilities will include an artisan distillery to make the whiskey, rack houses for the multi-year aging process and a bottling hub to make the products available for the marketplace. The site will also feature a museum to honor the whiskey’s unique – and illegal – heritage.
Conecuh Ridge Distillery was established by Kenny May in 2001 as an out-of-state whiskey-making operation that was based on his father Clyde May’s moonshine recipe. In 2013, distillation became legal in Alabama, and as the company planned an expansion, it could look to Alabama for its new home. “Our roots are here, our heart is here. It was a matter of deciding where in Alabama,” said L.C. May, the company’s U.S. Brand Ambassador and Clyde May’s grandson. After a two-year process, he said, “We felt that Troy was the best fit for us.” This new location also made sense from a historical perspective. “Troy was very close to where my grandfather was making his moonshine,” May said.
Conecuh Ridge Distillery is now an independent company run by a group of investors. L.C. May is the only family member still involved on a day-to-day basis, though others, including several of Clyde’s children, actively support the brand.