HEALTHY GROWTH: Expanding financial sector reflects ‘unprecedented growth’ in local economy

Published 3:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2016

The growth in Pike County’s financial sector is a reflection of the strong economy, local banking leaders say.

Pike County is experience a lot of banking activity recently with several credit unions being established, First National Bank building a new branch and Troy Bank and Trust expanding.

First National Bank President John Ramage said the move is to increase the bank’s visibility in a competitive market.

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“Nowadays, ‘bank’ is a verb,” Ramage said. “People bank and you’ve got to be there where they bank. This will obviously be a much more visible location. We feel like this is a move that carries us forward for a generation.”

Ramage said that the move to the new Park Place development also piggybacks off of the excitement people have about Publix and the new shopping center.

But the excitement surrounding that particular development is far from the only thing bringing expansions, said Ramage, who also serves as chairman of the board for Pike County Economic Development

“The thing to look at with any expansion is the health and strength of your market,” Ramage said. “Troy is poised for unprecedented growth, and that’s not just because of the Park Place development. The road network that the mayor and city committed to opens Troy up for a level of growth we haven’t seen in quite a while, if ever.

“Troy, for the first time in a long time, is going to grow within its own borders. It has grown in both directions before, but the infrastructure of those connectors will bring forth 300 acres of land back there ripe for development, whether that’s housing, retail, commercial– all of that is now on the table thanks to foresight of city leadership … [financial institutions] are reacting in some way and setting up for what they think is coming down the line.”

Ramage also credited cheap utilities and Troy Cable’s fiber network as extra incentives to expand into the market.

Jessica Pigg, marketing representative for Max Credit Union, said Troy was a natural fit for expansion. “We actually have quite a large number of customers living in Troy market and surrounding region,” Pigg said. “A lot of our customers that work in Montgomery already live in that area, and anything we can do to bring more convenience to our customers is a good thing.”

Max joins Guardian Credit Union, another newcomer to the Pike County market, and Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union, a well-established credit union in Pike County. Representatives of AACFCU and Guardian could not be reached for comment.

Pigg said the expansion to Troy was a “natural evolution” and that the expansion happens to coincide with the Park Place Development nearby.

“We’re excited to be in the same location as these new shops and restaurants,” Pigg said.

“With online banking becoming so big, we try to make sure our branch experiences are the best and easiest way to help customers, and being near shops and restaurants makes it very convenient.”

TB&T President Jeff Kervin’s explanation of why TB&T is expanding outward may shine some light on why others are extending into Troy.

“In this industry, you’re either growing or you’re shrinking,” Kervin said. “So for us it wasn’t about whether we would expand, but how we would expand and where. I would imagine the same dynamics are at play for credit unions. As banking institutions dwindle in number, they grow in size. You’ve got to stay relevant.”

Kervin explained that Troy and the surrounding Pike County area is a good market right now with a stable economy linked to Troy University, and that makes Troy a good option for expansion. “That’s a compliment to Troy and Pike County,” he said.

TB&T’s expansion is good for the bank, of course, but the bank’s central location in Troy means expansion benefits the local economy as well.

“We have 130 employees and the majority of those are here in Pike County,” Kervin said. “And about half of our employees deal with back-office work that we try to keep here in Troy. So expansion outside of Pike County increases our support staff here and also allows for that money to go to payroll for employees here.”

Kervin said that the bank could always have another office outside the county, but that isn’t what he wants for the bank. He wants the people handling the back-office work in Pike County, helping Pike County grow.

“The best way for us to do that is for us to grow,” Kervin said.

Whereas these other big chains are extending into Pike County though, Kervin and TB&T are branching out from Troy.

“We actually started expanding in 1997 with the purchase of People’s Bank of Coffee County in Elba,” Kervin said.

Since then, TB&T has expanded to Brundidge, Ariton, Enterprise, Dothan and are now working on expanding into Auburn.

“No matter what, some people aren’t going to bank with you,” Kervin said. “So you hit a plateau in some markets. You’re taking a huge risk if you’re just sitting there.”

To keep from being stagnant, Kervin and his team devised a strategy for expansion over the next 15 years.

“We identified a general area of the state we wanted to focus on using the Troy University campuses and the Troy University Broadcast Network, since we’re already advertising on that anyways,” Kervin said. “The key is for your reach not to exceed your grasp. Places like Huntsville are just not within our reach right now.”