Major developers and large utilities are investing in Polk County,
situated between Tampa and Orlando along the I-4 corridor.
to Polk County. With more than 7 million people now living
within a 100-mile radius of what geographically is the center
of Florida, Polk is rapidly becoming a haven for corporations
who want a ready workforce within easy reach. With 2,048 square
miles, Polk County is larger than Rhode Island and a population
of 494,000 gives it a higher head count than Wyoming. But
what wasn't known until the most recent census is that more
than half of Polk's population lives in east Polk, thanks
in large part to the surge of residential units that have
been developed there to accommodate growth in nearby Orange
County. While families have been settling in the east, businesses
have been flocking to Lakeland and the western reaches of
the county, making 2001 one of the best years for corporate
relocations and expansions in the past 15 years. Last year,
25 companies added nearly 1,700 jobs in Lakeland alone.
Yeomans, a manager at Chicago-based U.S. Freightways Distribution,
selected Lakeland for the firm's new 65,000-square-foot
explains why Polk is attracting major developers out of Tampa,
Orlando, Chicago, and Houston. Last year these companies,
many of them real estate investment trusts (REITs), developed
more than one million square feet of bulk distribution space
in Polk (see story on page 38). "Four REITs own space
in Lakeland," says Steve Scruggs, executive director
of the Lakeland Economic Development Council.
Industrial Real Estate has developed a $62-million, 220,000-square-foot
building in FirstPark at Bridgewater. ProLogis owns a 247,000-square-foot
building at County Line Road. Trammell Crow Co. and Duke-Weeks
Realty Corp. are developing buildings of similar size in Lakeland
Interstate Business Park. Duke-Weeks also recently announced
plans to develop the Park 27 Distribution Center in east Polk.
commercial development has been moving at a clip, residential
development appears to have kept pace. Last year the county's
building departments issued 3,501 permits for single-family
homes, up from the year 2000's record of 3,183 permits. The
majority of those permits were issued for homes in northeast
the past our hot spots were Winter Haven and Haines City,"
says Ron Morrow, executive director of the East Polk Committee
of 100. "Now they're everywhere in Auburndale, Lake
Alfred, Dundee and Lake Wales."
possibility for residential development is Cypress Gardens,
Polk County's major theme park near Winter Haven (see story
on page 34). "We have 100 acres that are currently underutilized,"
says Bill Reynolds, CEO at Cypress Gardens. "Forty acres
south of the park is lakefront property."
these new residential communities, the population in Polk
continues to grow. "The eastern half of the county now
has over 50 percent of the population," says Morrow.
a switch from the previous census in 1990. "Our demographics
are changing," Morrow says. "Population shifts are occurring
that we didn't anticipate."
interesting fact is that the age of the population is younger.
"That growth is not over 65 years of age," says
Morrow. "That's why our schools in the northeast are
means a workforce is accumulating in Polk. "Our workforce
has jumped," Morrow says. "It lagged at 190,000 to 200,000
in the Œ90s. Now it's at 213,000. We've never had a problem
filling the jobs that businesses bring when they locate here."
the jobs in Polk have traditionally been in the phosphate
mining and citrus industries. These products alone account
for 80 percent of the goods that move through the Port of
Tampa, Florida's largest seaport. With Polk's extensive highway
and rail transportation systems, exports from the county
valued at $3 billion in annual sales have diversified in
recent years with products ranging from plastic fish bait
to computer software.
those companies creating international trade will find that
West Polk has more options for commercial and residential
space with the pending development of two large mixed-use
projects the 18,000-acre Clear Springs development that
will add as many as 6,000 homes and the 3,400-acre Old Florida
enjoyed a banner year in terms of corporate expansions and
relocations (see story on page 31). Twenty-five companies
made a capital investment of $73.55 million adding 1,695 new
jobs to Lakeland's economy last year. "This is one of the
top two years in 15 years in Lakeland," Scruggs says. "And
that activity occurred in the first three quarters."
this corporate expansion is in the distribution and services
industries. "If you look at what Polk has enjoyed in its successes,
we have done very well in warehousing and distribution," says
J. Theron Stangry, senior vice president and Lakeland area
executive at Citrus & Chemical Bank and president of the Central
Florida Development Council. "We have provided good jobs.
We'd like to provide great jobs. The future for that is in
high tech. With the Florida High Tech Corridor in the core
of Polk County, we are fair game to attract technology companies."
developers in Polk are also aware of this potential and are
planning to create high-tech business parks with proximity
to Interstate 4. To complement the initiative to attract high-tech
jobs, the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus is
developing an information technology department to grant bachelor's
location for IT firms is the new 38,000-square-foot Heritage
Plaza office building in downtown Lakeland. While two thirds
of the three-story building has already been occupied, Atlanta-based
developer Howe Whitman is prepared to develop another identical
building adjacent to the existing project. "We're very happy
with the way the first building is filling up," says Seth
McKeel, the real estate manager at Heritage Equities Inc.
"A lot of quality Lakeland firms have decided they want to
industry with a significant presence in Polk is the generation
of electric power (see story on page 40). Calpine Corp., based
in San Jose, Calif., has started construction on its new 529-megawatt,
$250-million plant in Auburndale. Additional plants are approved
for construction in Fort Meade and Mulberry. "Two other
merchant companies have announced plans to construct plants
here if they win local approval," says Jim DeGennaro,
director of business development at the Central Florida Development
all this activity, "those wide-open green spaces are
now being filled up," Morrow says.
fear that Polk is losing its distinction. Polk developer Kermit
Weeks recently posted a sign on his property marking it as
"The Future Site of Downtown Orlampa."
half of Polk looks at Orlando as a sister city and the western
half identifies with Tampa," Stangry says. "We could become
Orlampa by doing nothing. But the leaders of this county won't
sit back and do nothing. They'll move forward and claim their
identity." Stangry adds that there is an initiative under
way to develop a long-term vision for Polk.
County is becoming more like our neighbors," says DeGennaro.
"We're Œurbal.' We're transitioning from rural to urban. The
growth in our county used to come from Tampa. Today Orlando
has gone ballistic and is pushing growth to the east side
of our county."
isn't so concerned about the Orlampa moniker as he is about
losing two corporate headquarters last year to acquisitions.
U.S. Food Service purchased Mutual Wholesale and Advanced
Auto Parts now owns Discount Auto Parts, headquartered in
Lakeland. "We lost two big corporate entities," DeGennaro
says. "We still have an honor roll of Florida corporations
headquartered here but we hate to lose even one."
on that honor roll is the corporate headquarters for Publix
Super Markets Inc., the top private employer not only in Polk
County but one of the largest in the state (see story on page
36). The grocer is currently developing a 320,000-square-foot
Class A office building in West Lakeland as its new headquarters.
Its 2,300 local employees should be occupying the building
later in the year.
large employer, the county government, is purchasing 200 acres
at the Polk Parkway to develop office space for several of
its agencies currently scattered throughout the county. "They
plan to build a campus-type structure so that their offices
are more centrally located to all of the municipalities of
Polk," says Stangry.
of the past year or two continues in Polk with the loss of
manufacturing jobs. Among those companies that ceased operations
last year are the Owens-Brockway glass bottle plant, the Xerxes
Corp. fiberglass plant and AmeraParts Intl. LLC in Lakeland.
"We lost 1,100 much-valued manufacturing jobs last year,"
DeGennaro says. "Where once our bread and butter was manufacturing
to support the giant phosphate, citrus and food industries
in Polk, we're seeing more information technology and financial
jobs open up."
it is revitalization of its towns or new commercial and real
estate development, "we continue to grow by leaps and
bounds," says Stangry.