Success in Business Awards

the highest honor

Economic Development Awards – Success in Business

The Central Florida Development Council’s highest honor — the Economic Development Awards — is presented annually to a large and a small business, institution and/or organization in Polk County which promotes free enterprise, community service, economic stability and quality growth.

The economic development organization’s investors vote to recognize both small and large entities which are recognized at its annual meeting.

George W. Harris, Jr. Success in Large Business Award

The prestigious award is named for George W. Harris, Jr. who was Chairman and President of Citrus and Chemical Bank. Harris, who was a towering figure in banking, finance, philanthropy and civic leadership, died in 2006 at the age of 71.

He was an early and impactful Chairman of the Central Florida Development Council, whose office was located in the headquarters of Citrus and Chemical Bank in Bartow, Florida for 22 years.

The energetic and good-natured banker was a graduate of Georgia Tech where he met Harriet Griffin, his future wife and mother to his three children. While Harris was a giant in the banking industry, his endearing legacy is his love of people and his community.

His numerous honors include the 2003 George Jenkins Award from the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and induction into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame. Harris was the first statewide recipient of the Community Bankers of Florida Banker of the Year Award and he received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Polk County Opportunity Council. Citrus and Chemical Bank received the Dick Pope, Sr. Award from the Central Florida Development Council, the same honor which would one day pay homage to his name and community service.

The George W. Harris, Jr. Success in Large Business award is presented to companies with 100 or more employees. The 2023 recipient was Bank of Central Florida. Paul Noris started the Bank of Central Florida 16 years ago. Today, it surpasses the 100-employee mark and boasts assets totaling $1.03B. Throughout its growth, the bank remains dedicated to prioritizing its customers and fostering the prosperity of the business community.

During its initial 15 years of operation, the bank expanded to six offices, crafted a strategic roadmap titled “Vision 2025”, maintained its commitment to aiding small businesses and small-business owners, introduced enhanced business banking features, produced educational resources focusing on fraud prevention, and pursued various other initiatives.

Jim Brantley Success in Small Business Award

When unemployment hovered around 16 percent in the early to mid-1980s, Polk County government and business leaders knew they had to do something. Back-to-back freezes had wiped out the citrus crop, phosphate mining was declining and Piper Aircraft closed its 2,500-employee manufacturing plant in Lakeland.

Jim Brantley was the county’s director of Community Development, a man who worked with officials in the county’s 17 cities: people trusted him.  He became the first director of the newly created Economic Development Department within Polk County government — the answer to officials’ pleas for help. 

Brantley was charged with the task of creating the Central Florida Development Council as the county began emulating the state Department of Commerce’s initiatives nearly 35 years ago. In 2019, the Central Florida Development Council named its small-business award to honor his leadership.

The Jim Brantley Success in Small Business award is presented to companies with fewer than 100 employees. The 2023 recipient was Gulf Coast Avionics. Rick Garcia launched Gulf Coast Avionics in 1984 with a focus on selling, installing, and repairing aircraft electronics. Nearly four decades later, with a team of 57 employees, their Lakeland headquarters stands as one of the largest avionics facilities in the world as a leading supplier of pilot supplies, aircraft services and avionics.

Past Small Business Award Recipients

2023 – Gulf Coast Avionics

2022 – SVN | Saunders Ralston & Dantzler

2021 – Springer Construction

2020 – FHS

2019 – The Lunz Group

2018 – Peterson & Myers

2017 – Six/Ten LLC

2016 – Broadway Real Estate

2015 – CNP

2014 – Madrid Engineering

2013 – A-C-T Environmental & Infrastructure

Past Large Business Award Recipients

2023 – Bank of Central Florida

2022 – Tucker Paving Inc.

2021 – Nucor Steel Florida, Inc.

2020 – Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits

2019 – Draken International

2018 – CenterState Bank

2017 – Florida Southern College


2015 – Florida Polytechnic University

2014 – Saddle Creek Logistics Services

2013 – Coca Cola Main Street

Additional recipients include:

ButterKrust Bakeries

Citizens Bank & Trust

Citrus & Chemical Bank

Clark Environmental

Colorado Boxed Beef

Cypress Gardens

Florida’s Natural Growers



Polk State College

Progress Energy

Publix Super Markets

State Farm Insurance


The Ruthvens

W.S. Badcock Corp.