Recently, CFDC President Sean Malott had the opportunity to discuss economic development in Polk County with The Ledger Newspaper. The following is reposted from the article.

Sean Malott offers a welcoming hand-shake, even to those he’s never met before. It’s an important trait to have when you’re in the business of attracting companies to your county.

A graduate of Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Malott started at the Central Florida Development Council as vice president in November 2015. Less than a year later he was promoted to president and chief operating officer of the council, where he oversees the county’s economic development plan and develops strategies on ways to attract new business to Polk County.

“Sean provides amazing leadership and sets an example for the strength of collaboration across businesses, organizations and our community to impact variables that will lead to economic growth and vitality,” said Naomi Boyer, a CFDC board member and Polk State College vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation. “He is innovative, creative, and executes to fulfill the vision of CFDC to the benefit of his investors, the county and the citizenry.”

Before starting with the CFDC, he was director of industry partnerships at Florida Polytechnic University and the manager for business development at Enterprise Florida, the state equivalent of the CFDC. He’s worked as close as Lakeland, where he was a business development associate at Outsource Partners International, and as far away as Calcutta, India, where he was a management trainee for ABC India Limited.

“Sean is a visionary leader who truly wants all of Polk County to grow and prosper,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president of business development. “I don’t think a day goes by that the word ‘inclusive’ is not spoken in the office.”

Taylor said Malott, 42, has a positive attitude and is an “optimist who goes out of his way to include our economic development partners, investors and community stakeholders and leaders in the CFDC’s initiatives and strategic programs.”

“He listens to and values the opinions of those who help shape Polk County’s economy and its future,” she said. ” He recognizes and appreciates teamwork, which is critical to a successful economic development organization.”

He’s active in the community, volunteering on the governing board of directors for Polk Vision and serving as a board director and president of Historic Lakeland.

When not busy with work, Malott spends time with his wife, a freelance prop stylist for a commercial media production and owner of Wish Vintage Rentals in Lakeland. They have two daughters, 7 and 5. Together they enjoy attending Florida Tropics games as season ticket-holders.

Malott says he’s an “an avid news reader and podcast and audiobook listener. I prefer business, financial, history and non-fiction.”

To find out more about Malott, read on.

Q. Several cities in Polk County have economic development agencies, which do relatively the same work as the CFDC. How do you each differentiate yourselves, and in what ways do you work together?

A. Polk County is a business-friendly community and is fortunate to have excellent city economic development agencies and chambers of commerce. The Central Florida Development Council is Polk County’s economic development partnership responsible for recruiting new businesses to Polk County and helping existing business expand. We do this to increase the tax base, develop new jobs and enhance community prosperity. The CFDC is different in that it represents all of Polk County and works globally to promote the county as a premier business destination. Regionally, the CFDC aligns closely with Tampa and Orlando to share the strengths of the region and its workforce. The CFDC relies on the municipal partners like the city EDCs and chambers to be subject-matter experts in their local communities. At the end of the day, it is all Polk.

Q. Education is a key component in attracting new business, yet Polk County lags when counting the number of college-educated employees. How does that affect recruiting, and what can you do about it?

A. Workforce is a critical component to the success of any business. As an economic development agency, we work with existing businesses and new businesses to better understand their talent-pipeline needs and then find the talent resources they require to be successful. For certain industries, we utilize regional workforce data in addition to Polk. We have centers of excellence throughout the county for companies looking to identify the right employees. In fact, through Polk Academies there exist many career pathways to degree and certificate programs. Sometimes it is necessary to look past the statistics and dive into the data to understand the variety of aspects within a community as large as Polk County. We need businesses in Polk to be more engaged with the School Board and school administrators to strive for a better system for our students and teachers.

Q. You recently attended a freight conference. What were the highlights, and how important is freight to Polk County?

A. The transportation and warehousing industry is an important employer in Polk. The county has grown a thriving logistics, supply chain and distribution sector and is a hub for e-commerce fulfillment for the state of Florida. On average, the transportation and warehousing industry pays 115 percent of the average annual wage in Polk.

In this industry, speed to market is critical, and Polk County is strategically located within 250 miles of a majority of the state’s population. This area has 9 million people within 100 miles. As new employment centers are entering the market, this is important to understand. Commerce and the movement of goods is helping fuel the Polk economy and provide meaningful careers to many Polk families.

Q. What is the No. 1 thing you market when trying to persuade new companies to move to Polk County, and why?

A. Location. Polk County is the geographic center of the state and we have all of the best of Florida Within Reach. We have community-focused, family-friendly, small-town quality of life with close proximity to big-city amenities. Polk has a relatively lower-cost and business-friendly economic climate, and land is available for development. Additionally, we have a hard-working ready workforce that is supported by seven colleges and universities. Access and connectivity give Polk a major advantage.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing the CFDC today and looking forward to the next five years?

A. We are in a global market, and there are many wonderful places to locate or expand a business throughout the state and beyond. As costs and margins narrow, it is more important than ever to make sure we are the premier business destination. As the fourth-largest Florida county in square miles, we must collectively unite our communities to champion all of Polk. Businesses have many choices, and we want Polk at the top of the list. Whether it is a new business to the area or an existing business that has been in Polk for years, we want everyone to succeed.