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|Built from the ground up|
Arkansas Stone's thriving business started on Troy Culp's back
Troy and Eleanor Culp of Arkansas Stone have a thriving business today thanks in part to their hard work and the educational opportunities provided to them by local vocational schools.
The Culps were honored for their support of Louisiana's technical education system by being named the Louisiana 2009 Small Business Champion for Career and Technical Education. The award was presented to the Culps recently at the Louisiana Community and Technical College System's Super Summer Institute held in Lafayette.
It is an honor Troy Culp says is one of the most meaningful of his career.
"My wife and I are just ecstatic over this award," Culp said. "We are so proud of it. I don't know of a more prestigious award that I would like to have than a working class award."
Arkansas Stone has been in business for 34 years. The Culps started their business out of an old, abandoned grocery store, which has been remodeled into the current Arkansas Stone facility off La. 15 in West Monroe.
He worked construction during the day and would come home to help his wife at their new business, which today has become one of the largest suppliers of brick and stone in northeast Louisiana.
"I've always said I had a good truck, a good back, a good wife and a good Lord, but not necessarily in that order," Culp said.
"I tell this to a lot of people, but they don't believe it, but I tell them there were a lot of days where I lifted 50,000 pounds," Culp said. "A lot of days."
"You get an 18-wheeler that comes in with 48,000 pounds on it, and I did not own a forklift," Culp explained. "I couldn't afford one."
"A lot of people work hard and the good Lord has blessed us," he added.
Culp is proud of his technical education and is happy to see more high schools begin to offer courses that teach students a skilled trade.
Culp took welding at West Monroe High School and became an experienced welder before he graduated high school.
Troy Culp then attended Delta Ouachita Vo-Tech where he trained in welding and electrical work. Eleanor Culp attended the vocational school in Farmerville where she took bookkeeping and accounting.
Troy Culp continues to support technical education by serving on the LTC Region 8 Institutional Advisory Committee. He also is a member of the LTC Delta Ouachita Campus Advisory Committee.
He proudly credits his technical school education as one of the reasons he is a successful businessman today.
"When I graduated from West Monroe High School at the age of 17, I had already completed three full years of welding, and I could literally certify (as a welder) even though I was too young to get a job," Culp continued. "Vo-tech and technical colleges have been around for 78 years. It was created right in the depression era due to the necessity of hard times. It was a very well implemented program.
"Thousands of people have been educated to work with their hands in some fashion. College is not for everyone. Just think of the thousands of people who have benefited from this Louisiana Technical College System."
Going through high school, Culp wasn't interested in many of the traditional courses. He was a more hands-on person who wanted to get out and make a living doing something he loved.
"I did not like school," Culp explained. "I was impatient, and I wanted to get out and work. I love the outdoors and I wanted to be out there working rather than in some classroom."
He's excited to see local officials recognize that more skilled training needs to be offered in high schools to provide youth more options.
He believes legislation authored by Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, and Sen. Robert Kostelka, R-Monroe, will benefit students throughout the state.
That legislation, the career diploma bill, was designed to tackle the large number of dropouts in Louisiana by providing them with alternative educational opportunities such as learning a trade.
Approximately 13,500 Louisiana students drop out of high school each year. That number climbs to 16,000 if middle school students are included.
"I think that will be helpful in keeping students enrolled and having them graduate," Culp said. "I was probably an average student, but I took welding for a half a day, every day, for three years in high school. I made straight Bs."
"My welding instructor, an old mentor named Oswell Adams, taught me for three years. I asked him, 'Mr. Oz, I'm a good welder, why can't I make an A once and a while?' He said, 'Son, if you can make an A, you don't belong in here,'" Culp continued. "No one made an A. I made straight Bs until the last six weeks when I was graduating, and he gave me an A. But, a half a day of straight Bs helped my yearly average and allowed me to graduate with my class.
"I was interested in that (welding), but I wasn't interested in football, sports, the Spanish Club or any of that other stuff. I look back now that I am close to retirement, and I am very proud that I graduated at 17 years old and already had three years of a trade where I could go out and work."
Culp knows some people in Louisiana do not support Fannin's and Kostelka's idea of offering high school students options to learn a trade.
"They don't crave that line of education," Culp said. "They don't understand it, but I believe a lot of these kids could drop out and quit but this will keep them busy and give them a goal and a desire. They don't have to excel in Algebra II, they can do other things and excel."
He hopes additional trades will be offered for high school students to learn because, according to Culp, with more businesses looking to locate in Louisiana, there will be a greater need for people trained in various trades.